Ever notice how our perception of reality changes with time and circumstances? Shoot, no, I don't expect you to jump from your easy chair and cry, to no one in particular, "Yes! I was thinking that very thought this morning at the breakfast table!!" But give it a quick think, and I suspect you'll agree. We're all rational folks who read this rag, no?
Shortly after we got married, oh so many years ago, Ginny, baby Jessica and I moved from Kew Gardens, Long Island, to Saint Paul, Minnesota. But after a couple of years, we drove back east to The Island (New Yorkers' term for Long Island, as if there couldn't possibly be any other island on earth worth mentioning.) just to gawk at the skyscrapers like other sightseers, and revisit Ginny's aunts, on 83rd Street, in Jackson Heights.
I'd driven all day (Ginny, who'd lived her whole life in the City, had always used the subway, so she didn't yet have a driver's license.), was dog-tired, so I didn't care when I was assigned to a closet-small bedroom on the third floor. I fell asleep thinking how wonderful it was to get back, if only momentarily, to a place and way of life that were utterly familiar to me. Home, sweet home!
In retrospect, it seemed almost immediately that I was battered awake by a blare of sirens and a rush of loud voices speaking, or, to be more precise, clamoring a language I didn't recognize. Oh, leave it to me! I thought desperately, turning over onto my back, to arrive in NYC the very day some large gathering of outraged renters or bus drivers or taxpayers or Tasmanian immigrants has planned a vocal demonstration -- and right outside aunt Alma's house, too! Holy mackerel, I wished I'd packed my old .45 caliber Colt Navy revolver under Aunt Alma's pillow. What the hell time is it, anyhow? Prying open my eyes and getting used to the pitch dark, I looked at my watch: 3:15.
It took me a second, but suddenly I saw the light. Sure, okay, that explained everything!
Yesterday had been Saturday. The wildly popular Bud's Bar and Restaurant, just down the street, always closed at 3 a.m., not a minute later. And so, the ruckus I was hearing was not a multi-lingual mob of malcontents swinging nail-studded 2x4's and baseball bats. It was just a rowdy bunch of harmlessly drunken Puerto Rican youngsters celebrating out on the sidewalk, before having to stagger home, hung-over at dawn.
Say, what was wrong with me anyway? Couldn't I empathize with a poor teenage kid who just didn't want a beautiful summer night, filled with friendly conversation among friends and an endless flow of tongue-loosening booze, to end. "Aw, just a half-hour more, barkeep Sully? Please!" I've known nights like that, and wouldn't trade the memories for the world. But that was then, this was now. Maybe it's true: You can't go home again.
My life has been marked, I see now, by a gradual quieting. Oh, there remain some brief periods of ear-shattering noise, like the moments kids drive up or down Spring Street with car radios fully unfurled; or like the hours when, driven by some usually suppressed manic impulse, I press my right or left ear into the fabric of a full-size stereo speaker, to take into my very skull the full, unleashed fury of the brass section of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring." (Sorry, Gin, but you can't play this thing "softly.") For the most part, however, I'm perfectly content to leave the raucous, nerve-jarring life in Nevada, to spend some time at our "StoneHouse Perennials," out in the country.
I don't expect to find a quieter place this side of the grave.
I love talking with and helping -- if I can -- our customers at "StoneHouse Perennials." There, as the official welcoming committee, I can roll out my favorite jokes and puns, at which some customers sometimes laugh. I warn them to check my math, if they buy something, because I'm just learning to use it. If I remember, I tell them they don't have to buy something if they visit us. Meeting or visiting with them is enough for me. (I remember my mother telling me I should buy something from the bridal shop her college roommate was running when I dropped in, at my Mom's urging, when I'd barely reached puberty.) In fact, these past few weeks, I've seen and chatted with a bunch of good neighbors and friends I haven't seen for years. Isn't that compensation enough?
Well, if we're not in business to make a living, much less a killing out here, then what're Ginny and I up to? Funny you should ask. We're in this business because neither Ginny nor I look forward to spending our retirement years sitting on our family room sofa gazing blankly at "The Price is Right" or combing the hair of our four cats, especially the very large taffy-color, some-teeth-missing, extra-hairy, ambulatory door-stop Atticus. Ginny's in this business because, a child of the city, she's discovered she loves plants and flowers. I'm in this business because I love my wife.
My favorite time out here is the hour or so around dusk. Suddenly, there's absolutely no noise. No passing trucks, no cars, no lawn mowers. There are moments in that hour when the loudest sound comes from the rabbit treading her way across the back yard in search of that tasty iris she was peacefully nibbling when someone started the John Deere a few feet away from the banquet table.
The sun is setting; the temperature has suddenly dropped down into the comfortable zone; a soft, intermittent breeze seems to come up off the pond; I see a couple of little fish -- don't ask me what kind -- lackadaisically navigating their way in the 3-feet-deep water. I sit and relax in a chair parked in the gazebo. I'm about to doze off. Who cares? I've got no lessons to prepare for tomorrow. I must be getting old. Well, who cares? These birds sitting in branches nearby and overhead sound surpassing sweet.
Igor Stravinsky, you're not welcome here tonight