Archive for the ‘woodstock’ Category

Man Can Live by

June 18, 2007

Today I had coffee at Bread Alone in Woodstock, NY. I always feel good when I visit this coffee shop because it was here, at the choice front-window table, that I banged out much of my book King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.

And when the writing was going slow, I could always eavesdrop on the conversations at Bread Alone. Once I overheard a woman behind me explaining that only Italians could become pope. Was it worth turning around and telling her that the current pope was German and the one before him, Polish? I decided not to: I’m fond of Woodstock, the town in which I was conceived, but it would be a full-time job to try to correct all the misinformation I hear. Better just to go with the chi.


Made in Woodstock

May 21, 2007

I like to wear a burgundy T-shirt that trumpets “Made in Brooklyn” across the front.  I especially like wearing it in Manhattan.  A long time ago I, too, was a Manhattan snob who rarely ventured to the other boroughs, but now I am a big fan of all the ethnic neighborhoods off the island.

My shirt is a paradox, like René Magritte’s iconic picture of a pipe that has the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (or “This is not a pipe”) written below it.  The shirt may have been made in Brooklyn but I certainly wasn’t.  I was made in Woodstock, NY.

I have a very complicated relationship with the famous hamlet that I’ve frequented or lived in since the time I was an embryo.  I like the physical beauty of the woods and rugged mountains.  I like the creativity and open-mindedness of its inhabitants.   But I scream inside at all the flakes.

I was sitting on a bench this evening outside Taco Juan’s, a purveyor of ice cream, sorbet, inexpensive tacos, and tofu chili.   A sketchy-looking woman walked by, and I remembered the time, a decade ago, when I was sitting on the very same bench and a woman who had two small children in tow stopped in front of me.  She gazed over my shoulder at the menu items listed on the chalkboard in the window. 

“That’s the problem with this town,” she said to her kids.  “The stores should be more careful with their signs or you’ll never learn how to spell.  It’s absurd they spelled quacamole with a g.  It’s not guacamole.  A Mexican restaurant, of all places, should know that it’s spelled with a q, like the word queen.  It should say, ‘Quacamole and Chips.'”  And words, for once, eluded me: I sat there in surreal silence.

Esopus 8

May 16, 2007

Esopus is a frothy creek, frequented by trout and tubers, that snakes through the towns outside Woodstock.  My friend Tod once had a cottage on a roaring stream connected to the creek.  Now he has created a lush extravaganza of a magazine called Esopus

I went the other night to a launch party for their eighth issue, in the white gallery-space basement of New York City’s Center for Architecture, an attractive building that’s just a stone’s throw from the granite chess tables in Washington Square Park. 

Before I joined the hundred other Esopus revelers, I added my name and cell phone number to the bottom of a list that was kept by a greeter who sat at a desk by the front door.  I was told that sometime during the evening I’d be called by a member of the Headlong Dance Theater, a Philadelphia-based troupe that would put on an individualized dance performance just for me.  The greeter volunteered that no sex would be involved.

An hour and a half and two chardonnays later, a woman called my cell phone and asked where I was.  She instructed me to go up two flights of stairs and out the front door.  She said she would call me back when I was outside.

As soon as I was in front of the building, she called again and told me to cross the street without getting run over and take a seat atop a small yellow sticker attached to the base of the famous statue of Mayor LaGuardia.  “Paul,” she said, “you need a nickname.  I’m going to call you Buzz,” and she pronounced Buzz as if had four z’s.  “Is that okay, Buzz?”

It was more than okay.  I liked it.  It was macho.  Like Buzz Aldrin.  I had the right stuff. 

As I sat on the sticker, she told me to experience the world around me.  “The man drinking coffee on your left, the UPS truck passing in front of you, the birds on the branch above your head,” the voice coming through my phone said, “now take it all in, Buzz.”  I took it all in, but she was nowhere to be seen.  She told me to sit there for 30 seconds immersing myself in my surroundings and she’d call me back.


She called on cue and asked me how I was doing.  Then she instructed me to go to a pay phone half a block away on the other side of the street.  She said I’d find a colored sticker to affix to my shirt.  While I walked to the phone, she asked me if I knew that a bee has 3,000 eyes through which they are able to see everything around them.  I told her I didn’t know that.


Once the sticker was on me, she instructed me to go around the corner and into an NYU building.  The security guard, she said, would notice the sticker and check to see that my name was on a list.  Then I’d take the elevators to the sixth floor and look for Room 606.  It was confusing to find the room, she said, so she promised to call me back when I emerged from the elevator.


When she called back, she told me to walk past the picture of Billie Holiday and around the corner past a series of music practice rooms.  I did as she instructed and found Room 606, which had a honeycomb-cell symbol on the door.  “Be brave, Buzz,” the voice on the phone said before hanging up.  A woman emerged from Room 606 and greeted me, “Hi Buzz.” 


I finally got it.  Buzz was not a spaceman’s name but had bee connotations.  The woman explained (or maybe the phone voice had told me some of this—my recollection is fuzzy because at the time I was nervous and excited about what would be expected of me) that I’d have four minutes alone in the cell with three dancers.  That they would respond to my movements and mimic them.  That no one would be watching.  That I should make of the experience what I wanted.  That it would end in exactly four minutes when the music stopped.  She asked me if there was anything I wanted to leave with her while I went inside.  I gave her my sweatshirt and glasses. 


Inside were two casually dressed women and one man who were all down on the floor entwined theatrically in a frozen dance pose.  All was quiet.  Then the music started and I gingerly walked around them. They did not respond.  I was unnerved that they were not copying my movements, as I thought was promised.  I walked in a big square around them and self-consciously raised my arms a bit, but still they did not respond.  I’m the kind of person who, at parties with strangers, usually hovers in the corner near the chips and salsa. 


Something overcame me, though, and I suddenly got down on the floor and scooted in close.  Now the bees came to life, and I can’t really describe what happened next—it was all a fun blur—but one of the women was kind of in my lap at one point.  Just as I was getting comfortable, the music stopped and my four minutes were up.  The performance was incredible.

Annals of Luddism, I

May 16, 2007

I like to imagine that Woodstock has more manual typewriters per capita than any other place in the country.  After all, these earth-friendly machines don’t consume electricity. 

I can’t get television in my Woodstock home.  Time Warner won’t string a cable down my long dirt road, and the neighbors’ pines and oaks rule out DirectTV.  Cell-phone reception is awful or nonexistent in the town because the manual-typewriter crowd has blocked the construction of cell towers. 

I need a cell phone that works in the Catskills, and so for years I was reduced to a no-frills, drab Nokia where the whole phone is effectively the antenna, maximizing the chances of reception.  Every few months or so I’d try a friend’s flip phone in Woodstock but it wouldn’t get a signal.  Because I am fidgety, the Nokia in my pocket, with its buttons exposed, would occasionally decide to call people on its own.  (Yes, I could use the number lock, but I’m afraid of forgetting the code.) 

A short time ago my pocket embarrassed me by making an early-morning call to a client who had been delinquent in paying me.  Usually I’d call the client’s office number during work hours to prod him for the money, but my pocket apparently had had enough and decided to call his cell—at 7:00 A.M.  I didn’t know what my pocket had done until I received a call at 7:01 A.M. from the miffed client, whom I had evidently disturbed while he was taking his sick pet to the vet.  I told him I hadn’t phoned him; later I reviewed the outgoing call log and saw that my phone had indeed called him. 

Nokia finally introduced a flip phone that works in Woodstock.  My pocket’s calling days are thankfully over, but, now for reasons unknown to me, other people’s pockets are calling me more than ever before. 


The pocket of a guy I know in the musical toy business has called me four times recently; I answered and heard muted voices or, in the evening, happy bar talk.  Actually I’m not sure I’ve ever had a two-way phone conversation with Mr. Toyman.  I’ve just listened to myself jabbering into the phone—like the tree that falls in the forest with no one around to hear it.