The Ballad of Val and Jim
One of the big problems with being happy and content, and in fact, the “only” problem with being happy and content, is that art suffers because of it. Certainly my art has. Other than a couple of witty Facebook posts, I haven’t written a damn thing since I finished Pretentious. This week, I set out to change that.
On Wed, Sept 28th, I left work with the biggest smile on my face, buoyed by the fact that I wouldn’t have to return for 12 glorious days. And without any definitive travel plans, I was free to do whatever I wanted. And all I really wanted was to write, exercise and spend some stress-free, quality time with Mrs. McAllen.
Valarie had to work on Thursday and Friday, so I got those days all to myself. Thursday happened to be my 29th sober anniversary, so I went down to Long Beach to visit with some ghosts and in the process, I also managed to run/walk/crawl 3 miles.
On Friday afternoon, my wife burst through the door with a smile as big as the room —
I’M ON VACAYSHUN!!!!
We dubbed ourselves by our new names, Vacation Val and Vacation Jim. Vacation Jim is totally zen. Nothing bothers Vacation Jim. Except traffic. Vacation Jim hates traffic.
Vacation Val loves Vacation Jim.
On Saturday, Val and I jumped in the car and headed into the city. Like most New Yorkers, we’ve never done a lot of the New York things. One thing I’ve never done is walk across the George Washington bridge. I’ve done the Brooklyn and Manhattan, so we figured that this would be a great time to spend the afternoon crossing the Hudson.
We never got there.
After sitting at a standstill on the FDR for 40 minutes, Vacation Jim lost his cool and abandoned the plan. We turned around and headed to BJ’s, which believe it or not, was less stressful. We got home in time to watch the last, meaningless Yankee victory in a long, up and down season. I already can’t wait for spring training.
Sunday was spent at the annual 3rd ave festival. My personal favorite day of the year. We got to see a few old friends, listen to a few of the local bands, and partake in the local street fair food, including a bag of decadently, greasy zeppoles. It was a great day, but as it does every year, left me in melancholy mood. Every year, the festival marks the official end of summer. This year was no exception. I think the temperature dropped 15 degrees that night.
Sunday was an awesome day.
On Monday, we headed back into the city, this time without the car. Being that I work for a billionaire who donates millions of dollars to the arts, I get into almost every museum in the city for free. We decided to check out the new Whitney on the West side.
Thank goodness it was free.
Don’t get me wrong, it was ok. It was a cool looking space, and it had some really great photo’s but most of the paintings were lacking. I know that it’s a modern art museum, but I would have liked to see them sneak a Picasso or two into the collection. The best piece was a wax sculpture of an elderly woman sitting on a chair opening her mail. It was so life-like, at first, I thought maybe it was one of those performance art pieces. I half expected her to smile, and ask if I wanted some cookies. She wore a floral print dress, with those old wedge shaped slippers that I remember both my grandmothers wearing. The sculpture was so real, you could see the callouses on her feet and the varicose veins in her calves. I was tempted to go over and smell her to see if they got the scent right.
The other part of the museum that was worth noting was the outdoor promenades that afforded us great views of downtown Manhattan. These alone were worth the price of admission, when you consider that I didn’t pay anything.
With the $50 bucks I saved, I decided to take my lovely bride to lunch. Sitting in the Diner on 9th avenue. A family of 8 comes in and asks for a booth in the closed section of the restaurant. The waitress seats them; mother, father, and a half-dozen or so kids. They sit down and look at the menu. Suddenly, they get up and head for the door, the father leading the way like he had just robbed a bank. Val and I look at the wait-staff and shrug our shoulders. Two minutes later, a teenager comes back to retrieve his lost ball cap, a sheepish look on his face.
A minute after that, an even younger child comes back to retrieve a bag that was left behind.
These encounters are the reason that I love people. They are so deliciously weird.
Note to self — When running out of a restaurant, make sure that you don’t leave anything behind.
After lunch, we headed over to Highline Park; we’ve been there twice in the evening, and both times we were told it was too late. This time, we have plenty of daylight. We navigate north, weaving through the groups of tourists marveling at the sights of the city.
About 10 blocks in, we are stopped by a big crowd watching as a man stacks cardboard boxes into a real-life Jenga.
Being a jaded, life-long NYer, my first thought is that this is a stall for pick-pockets.
Do people still do that?
Anyway, suddenly, some broad with a stroller and several Macy’s bags comes barreling through. Her bags knock into me and Val as we try and sidestep her. I bark “easy” at her, and her Euro-trash husband replies “MOVE”.
Without warning, I go from zero to sixty in an eye-blink. I follow him as they move past the crowd, screaming the entire time. I give him a lecture on manners and proper etiquette when traveling in NYC. Only, I’m not that polite. He responds by blaming his wife. Very courageous of him.
By now, the entire crowd is watching me, waiting to see what I’ll do next.
I feel my wife tug at my belt loop. I expect her to scold me, but rather she smiles and says —
“I am so turned on right now.”
We cut the trip short and head home, post haste.
Monday was a great day.
On Tuesday, we head to a gun range in Jersey. If you are interested in purchasing a firearm for home defense, but have little or no experience, I suggest you check out Gun for Hire in Woodland Park — The irony is, NJ has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but the best gun range.
Val and the boys were more excited than me. We spoke with the instructors there, and they answered every question that we fired at them. Ok, that I fired at them, the boys were just anxious to get started. We decided to rent a shotgun and two 9mm handguns.
And then they talked me into renting the dreaded AR-15.
To be clear, I fully support the 2nd amendment, and am fully against the private ownership of so-called assault weapons, but it’s hard for me to condemn something that I know little about, right?
Sufficed to say, my opinion hasn’t changed. After 15 minutes of safety instruction, including the use of the AR-15, we got down to shooting.
A. It was a lot of fun.
B. Don’t fuck with Valarie if you think she might be carrying a weapon. She takes out eyeballs from 50 feet away.
C. With the shotgun I was happy to hit the target. With the Glock, I was putting them dead center mass — with the AR-15, I was taking off ears from 40 feet away.
This is not something I want everyday psychopaths to have access to. It’s simply too easy to use.
That’s my two-cents, and I’m sticking with it.
After an hour of shooting, we went to dinner at Jose Tejas for more bonding with the fam.
Tuesday was a great day.
Wednesday was a do-nothing day. And by do nothing, I mean nothing. I sat at my laptop and fought on Facebook all day. And I’m not gonna lie, I got a bit of pleasure out of watching the Mets lose.
Wednesday was a good day too.
On Thursday, Val and I were supposed to get up super-early so we could head upstate and see the leaves, and breathe fresh air, and get away from the grind of city life — we were supposed to leave at 6am.
We didn’t get up until 7.
Vacation Jim doesn’t worry about time, only traffic.
I tell her that I’m going to leave the laptop at home, and stay off Facebook for two days —
She smiles like an excited child, but she looks at me warily. I don’t think she truly believes me until we walk out the door without the computer.
We left around 9.
Traffic was brutal. It took us an hour to get out of the city.
Vacation Jim was not happy.
But as much as I hate driving in traffic, driving on the open road is the perfect antidote; The Palisades, the Thruway, Route 88 — with each passing mile, I could feel the stress melting away.
By the time we made it to Oneonta, I was totally zen. I was practically a buddhist. We wondered around the woods of our property for a few hours, making plans for where we are going to build the house once the civil war starts.
Oh. You mock? Have you not been paying attention? Ok, that’s a different blog for a different day.
After we check-in to our hotel, we walk over to the local Pizza Hut because Vacation Jim doesn’t care about diets and is too lazy to drive into town to search for something to eat.
Pizza Hut doesn’t serve Pizza.
They serve hot dough with melted cheese and something resembling a pepperoni on it.
That night I have horrible dreams about giant lizards with green tongues.
Note to self — don’t eat any more fast food.
Despite that, Thursday was a great day.
On Friday morning, we wake to a beautiful fog. The surrounding mountains, which the day before were radiant with color, are now obliterated with a huge mass of white moisture.
We drive into Cooperstown — Searching for Zack Miller —
I haven’t been up here since the book was published. I wonder if it’s changed at all.
We take a seat at a table in the tiny Cooperstown Diner —
I wonder how the people will feel about me since I single-handedly made their town famous —
Ok, Cooperstown has probably been the most famous small town in America for over 150 years, but still…. I’m going to make it REALLY famous.
Once I sell a few million copies —
which hasn’t happened yet —
We wander around town for a while, then head over to Doubleday field. It’s 9 am and there is a game for over-50 men going on. I watch the pitcher in the Yankee pinstripes warm up —
“I can hit him.” I say to myself, ignoring the fact that I couldn’t hit in little league.
“But that was then.” I reason with myself.
I take a seat in the front row. I can hear Terrence Mann in my head.
“People will come Ray.”
I feel my wife watching me. She’s beaming. I ask her why and she replies.
“I love how happy you get.”
I can feel the lump in my throat.
We came here more than once; the old man and me. I can feel him right next to me.
Or at least, I imagine that he’s there…
A man in a Pirate uniform laces a rope into left field that goes over the fielders head. He carries his 50-plus body into 2nd, hobbling the last 20 feet.
“I woulda had a triple.” I say to myself.
The next batter fouls off two inside pitches.
“Down and away should get him.” I say out loud.
The batter swings and misses at strike three — down and away.
She smiles at me. I do the same.
The inning is over and the young boys masquerading as 55-year old men trade jokes and insults.
God, I love this game.
We walk down to the lake for a look-see. The lake is flat and empty. The fog is just starting to lift. There is nothing and no one stirring on the water, just like when Zack Miller put his canoe in during the first chapter.
We walk the streets and drive up the backroads looking for Zack Miller. We take our time, heading to all of his haunts, the places he drank, the women he chased. We search the past much like other people search Freehold, or Haight-Ashbury, or like we did in Venice two years ago.
I think of what I said to a good friend when he asked me what inspired me to write Pretentious,
“I couldn’t be a rock star, so I made one up.”
We head up route 31 looking for the turn-off to his ranch. Every time I say “I think this is it.” She shakes her head, no.
We can’t find Zack, so we head back to the property to plant mums and clean the garden and pull weeds. This counts as exercise when you avoid the gym. By the end of the day, I’m more sore than if I had lifted weights all day. I go down to the campsite, and marvel as I watch two deer break cover when I stumble upon them.
I make a fire using only flint. I haven’t done that since… well, ever.
I struggle at first because the pine needles are a little damp, but I cheat and use a piece of toilet paper and it ignites in a flash.
I’m totally ready to go on Survivor now.
We spend the rest of the day enjoying every second. I start to regret not spending the entire week up here. When I’m here, I love it, but I wonder how long I would be able to last in isolation, with no one around — or to live in a town where you meet everyone in the first ten days. Would I make it through an entire winter?
As the sun heads behind the mountains, we make our way home.
I take every back road I can find in order to avoid traffic and obscene tolls.
The Rip Van Winkle bridge is $1.50.
The GW is $16.00.
Same friggin river.
We get home some time around 10pm.
4 hours, 2 pit stops. No traffic.
Friday was the best day ever.
Saturday was another do-nothing day. I had planned on going to the gym to get some exercise, but every time I get up to leave, I don’t make it past the refrigerator.
Around noon, the mailman arrives with my Amazon order. The Springsteen auto-bio arrives. Perfect excuse not to get off the couch. I read 10 pages and take a nap.
The book is great, and the nap is awesome.
I get up, do 12 pushups, and read another chapter.
The afternoon baseball game is cancelled.
I empty the car and do some laundry.
Valarie makes an awesome steak for dinner, and then we watch two terrible movies.
Saturday was an awesome day.
I wake up Sunday Morning and read another chapter in the Springsteen book.
It’s awesome. It’s lyrical and poetic, and sometimes hard to follow.
Pretty much like everything else he’s written.
It inspires me to get up and write a blog. Something I haven’t done since July.
I start writing about out vacation. When she comes into the kitchen, she sees the frown on my face.
“What’s the matter?”
“This blog sucks.”
“Just shut up and write it.”
She feeds the cats and makes coffee.
I keep typing, hoping that something brilliant will spew forth. Every few minutes, I stop to go back to Facebook and make some comment about Trump or Hillary. I’m disgusted by both, but like a car accident, I can’t turn away.
Rain pounds the roof. It’s not going to stop today. Or ever. We had planned to go into the city to visit the Intrepid. They have an ongoing Star Trek exhibit. She loves Star Trek almost as much as I love Baseball, and for many of the same reasons.
And I love to make her happy, and I love free museums, but it looks like we’re not going to make it.
I keep typing. She’s got a sad look on her face. She has to return to work in less than 24 hours. I’ve got until 8pm on Monday.
We discuss what’s going to happen the rest of the day.
Giants or Westworld or Walking Dead?
I stopped watching the Walking Dead a while back, but she’s still hooked. I’m probably going to lose this one. Don’t tell me what happens in the Giant game.
Sunday is still gonna be a great day.
The blog is finished. It’s almost kickoff time. Baseball too.
Tomorrow, I’m definitely going to the gym.
Best vacation ever.