Five years in Fleischmanns

As some of you may or may not know, I have been trying to restore an old barn in the Catskills for several years. I had thought of writing funny little stories about my experiences but never produced anything.  This year the Township of Middletown has decided to double my taxes.  That combined with the recent floods visited upon the area by Hurricane Irene, have given me a sense or mortality concerning this structure, so I thought perhaps it was time to get busy with the “project.” Hopefully, the pressure will spawn creativity.  For now I can only introduce the idea with the first couple of paragraphs of an earlier story in which I am threatened with the prospect of becoming a double of the artist Henry Darger. That, of course, is another story entirely, but at least it gets something into public eye that I may then feel obligated to follow up on. “Becoming Henry” was previously published in the Unbearables anthology, entitled The Worst Book I Ever Read.

(photo to come)

Becoming Henry  (an excerpt)

This story I am writing here starts with a writing drought or at least the idea of one. It was a drought that seemed to me oddly coincident with actual droughts being suffered around the world in various areas, and which I saw as being reflected selfishly in my own situation. Replace water with words and you get the idea. I haven’t been able to put a word on a page for years. I still can’t. So I decided imitation was probably the solution—just copy someone else or at least steal their form and get going. The first idea I had was to write a new version of A Year in Provence—you know that story about the guy that buys a beat up old farmhouse in southern France and makes a best seller out of it. My title was going to be A Year in Fleischmanns, about a has-been writer who buys an old barn in a run down Jewish resort town and the fun and quirky adventures he has with the locals. But Fleischmanns isn’t France and the locals were reticent to participate in my novelization of their existence. Therefore I never got much further than the chapter titles: The Rabbi Who Walked Like a Bear; The Masochistic Finch and the Window Stain; The Barn Whisperer; When Lumber Talks Back; The Week of the Non-Compliant Timbers; Fist Fight With a Chop Saw; What Happened to My Sewer?; When Tent Worms Ate the Green Flesh of Spring; Pensees Des Contracteurs. I could go on. There were endless episodes but there just wasn’t any compelling (or marketable) narrative to fill them. Much like my own life, I ended up with nothing but a series of subtitles and no drama. Thus my dream of New Yorker poignancy and fame faded into the more pressing complaints of sore muscles, arthritis and the chattering demands of endless urgent chores. These symptoms I believe mark the death of the intellectual common man. Which may be why clowns rule the world today: Exhaust the populace, sell them infinite gizmos, then do what you want. It seems to be working.

 

One day I was down at the Arkville flea market to buy some cheap blue tarps to defend my property from the coming storm. I also go there to buy salvaged dry goods from a quirky old man with coke bottle glasses. On that particular day he wanted to sell me some cucumbers too. They weren’t very good cucumbers but he grew them himself and I felt sorry for him. I bought three. As I handed him the money I happened to mention that all my trees were dead. I did this to offset the pain I was feeling he felt. This opened the door on an extended conversation. I haven’t mentioned Henry Darger yet, but I will now. Because the coke-bottle glasses man was, in fact a Henry Dargeresque fellow. He loved writing little script in little notebooks. I even began to wonder if maybe he had some kind of writing project of his own—a 15,000 page scrapbook of garden pictures perhaps, with cutouts from the local farm magazines, all this accompanied by a graphomanical narrative written in Greg Shorthand, in which an army of Margaretville school girls save the planet from worm-like parasites born of the global warming perpetrated by evil corporate Glandolineans. When I came back to the present, my new friend was already showing me photos of his garden; he had hundreds of pictures of vegetables and herbs, covering years apparently and he thought I might be interested. I feigned interest as I watched. The dense pewter colored clouds were gathering, tent worms were paratrooping by the thousands from the trees like a biblical plague. We brushed them from our clothes. The world seemed both mad and sad at the same time. There was a moment when my coke bottle glasses met the gaze of his coke bottle glasses and I felt what mystics call a trembling of fear and bliss. He said, “You know you and I are a lot alike.” The remark regrettably struck home.

 

(more to come)