The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth

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In my heart it’s always October. The night is full of terrors and we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. October is Harvest Moon, Ray Bradbury and unsolicited confessions. Here you go: When I’m running and hear footsteps from behind, I almost always suspect it’s someone running with a sword and I’m about to lose my head. Yet I never duck.

September’s good, too. September will forever be my month to shake off summeritus with deep thoughts about what to be for Halloween even though I never follow through. My little pumpkin already liquefied. It’s a sign. Of what who knows, but it’s a sign. Maybe death to my pumpkin was the universe’s way of saying Read more horror or else.

Fine.

Let’s begin our dive into the darkness with nonfiction. The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth tells the true story of how an anonymous murderer terrorized Austin, Texas in the late 19th century just as it began to grow into a city. Whether he then moved on to forever haunt the Whitechapel district of London remains a mystery, which means yes it’s him Jack the Ripper was a Texan. Or maybe not. Regardless, an extensive amount of research went into this seamless narrative history.

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From 1884 to 1885, a brutal murderer unleashed a mad storm of violence and corruption on the burgeoning city of Austin, Texas. The author grounds us in time and place through introductions to major players in both the city’s growth and the murder cases’ mishandling as both exploded concurrently. We don’t get to know much about the first victims. Where the sheriff and deputies, mayor and other political climbers were often prominent white men with paper trails the author was able to reference, the first victims were black female servants. We learn their names, who they lived with in the shacks behind the nice houses they worked in and where they were buried.

Hollandsworth reconstructs the murders in some detail, which is solid, based on the substantial bibliography. Can’t lie here, it feels wrong to know so much about the deaths of these women and next to nothing of their lives, but the same can be said for the victims of the most notorious serial killers.

I’m not generally a reader of true crime. While I love horror, reading about real murders doesn’t appeal. The exception is true crime that occurred prior to forensic science, before fingerprinting and, you know, protecting crime scenes and preserving evidence. Mistakes were plentiful. This insanely intelligent killer knew exactly how to exploit the utter lack of methodology in crime solving of the time. The police should have done better, but what seems like basic common sense now was unheard of then. They were in the dark. Before forensic science, police had no idea how much they didn’t know.

As the author explains, murders weren’t really crimes that required much in terms of solving. Murders were public shootouts. Shooters often bragged. Outlaws wrote books of their crimes. Let’s call them Idunnits.

Enter into this world an anonymous someone who kills for pleasure, moving silently through the night, striking quick and bloody then disappearing without a trace. This was the beginning of a new nightmare and Austin police responded nightmarishly. When they believed the killer was a black man, suddenly all black men were guilty until beaten and tortured.

People in town were disturbed by the servant murders, but it wasn’t until two white women were murdered in the same night that panic hit home for everyone. The next victim could be anyone. The author focuses on Austin, the murders, the accused and the many many mistakes made along the way. And then there’s the big maybe – maybe the next victims were London women.

This isn’t Jack The Ripper, the early days. Near the end Hollandsworth briefly goes into the speculation. At the time, some London police believed the murders in Whitechapel and Austin may have been committed by the same hand.

The possibility that Jack the Ripper was an American is so strange it almost must be true. Then again, every theory sounds plausible to me. Perhaps that’s why I’m not a Pinkerton. Even more surprising is that, as far as I know, this was an untold story until Hollandsworth poured himself into the task. He handles the subject with integrity. Crimes and bodies are described not gratuitously, but in graphic detail. Squeamish readers may want to read from a distance.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s hard to believe this dark slice of our country’s history is so little known.

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Hiking to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain

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Hiking to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain was a summer highlight. I can’t wait to do it again in a few weeks when we can make clever observations like Aren’t the leaves so pretty? 

The night before, we slept through rain and lightning at the Woodland Valley campground. Our site was hard to leave. By far the best campsite I’ve ever stayed at. We ate breakfast and drank percolated coffee while watching fog roll off the creek as hummingbirds drank nectar from a patch of yellow wildflowers. It’s true. You gotta believe me.

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You can hike to Giant Ledge from Woodland Valley campground. That was the original intention, but then we considered other options. Rather than hiking 8 miles out and back to Giant Ledge right from Woodland, we drove 20-ish minutes to the other trailhead on County Road 47. From here the trail to Giant Ledge is only about 3.2 miles out and back, which gave us time and energy to hike to Panther Mountain too. The total mileage for both from the other trailhead was about 6.9 miles. Why not add another peak to our bag?

Directions are simple: Take the yellow trail .75 miles to the blue trail. It’s blue all the way to Panther. Then come back. Every time the hike starts to feel monotonous the trail changes. Rocky to gentle flattish paths to large stepping stones then a few easy scrambles up.

Last time we camped, after racing to the car in the middle of the night with a stack of books because it was raining and I’d left the flap open and everything inside our tent was starting to get wet, I finally learned to limit myself to one book on these short hiking/camping trips. For Woodland Valley I chose Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are my Matter. The night before this hike I read “The Beast in the Book” a talk she gave in 2014 about relationships between animals and human characters. It made me think of bears and snakes and all the possibly threatening animals we might see on the hike ahead. How dangerous a worst-case-scenario can be, but also how necessary it feels to go into the wilderness anyway, to respect, savor and envy their home.

“People and animals are supposed to be together. We spent quite a long time evolving together, and we used to be partners,” writes Temple Grandin in Animals in Translation.

We human beings have made a world reduced to ourselves and our artifacts, but we weren’t made for it, and we have to teach our children to live in it. Physically and mentally equipped to be at home in a richly various and unpredictable environment, competing and coexisting with creatures of all kinds, our children must learn poverty and exile: to live on concrete among endless human beings, seeing a beast now and then through bars.

On the yellow trail, I saw a mouse crouched under a large stone in the middle of the footpath. I made eye contact with the little guy expecting it to scurry away but he just stayed there looking at me so I just kept looking into his brown beady eyes, feeling like his equal, thanks to Le Guin.

You know you’re close when the trail flattens. You’re surrounded by trees, stone and dirt and then there’s a side trail and you take it, looking down at each rocky step. Then the world opens up and it’s breathtaking. The view from Giant Ledge is special. It’s what wow looks like.

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We sat at the first ledge eating our first pj of the day before pushing on to the other ledges and Panther Mountain. The section between Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain was my favorite to hike. There’s a steep descent of about 200 feet, then its more than 700 feet uphill over about a mile. We took our time, glad for the peace and quiet we didn’t find on the crowded ledges.

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We saw all sorts of strange colorful mushrooms on our Slide Mountain hike earlier this summer. It’s neighbor Panther surprised us with patches of wildflowers and bright berries. The highest in the Catskills, Slide Mountain rises to 4,190′. While Panther’s elevation is 3,720′, this summit felt much higher, perhaps there aren’t as many false peaks. Like on Slide, the forest changes from the beech-birch-maple hardwoods of the lower slopes to conifer forest. That pure pine smell lifts you to the top. Legs and feet take all the credit, but the air works some magic.

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The view from Panther is similar the one you get on Giant Ledge, perhaps a touch sweeter. You’re on top of a mountain. Not only that, geologists believe Panther is on the site of an ancient meteorite impact crater. 

This is not a place to complain. Not in the moment. Now, after the fact, I’m still wishing there was a post or star or something to mark the summit. We didn’t want to hike to almost-the-peak so we kept going and going, looking for a sign or something. Then the trail began to descend down the other side. We turned back and ran into a couple who had a gadget that marked a small ledge with the above overlook as the highest point. It was a bit anticlimactic, but nothing to do about it. It’s not like the people responsible for maintaining the trail could possibly find a little piece of wood and paint a few strokes noting the top.

The gadget couple made themselves at home on the small ledge at the peak, so we went to another large rock near the top for a food break. Pjs taste best at higher elevations after being squished in a backpack for a few hours. That’s a fact. For dessert I nearly choked on a chocolate covered espresso bean. Between popping it in my mouth and crunching, the rock we were sitting on began to move between my feet. I was focused on the vista. It took my eyes a second to zoom in on the snake right in front of me, it’s open jaw about an inch from my ankle. Luckily I was tired. The edge of a mountaintop rock isn’t a place to get jumpy. It wasn’t a rattler anyway. I’m not sure what kind it was, but once we were standing we saw three other snakes slithering around the rock. Maybe they enjoy peanut butter and raspberry preserves at high elevation, too.

That was our signal to head back, enjoying the views from Giant Ledge one more time.

My dad asked why Raj and I rarely take pictures of ourselves. Neither of us are picture people. I broke it to him as gently as I could. I said, Dad, Raj doesn’t know how to smile when a camera is pointed at him and I look like a doozer. 

See the resemblance? That’s me building again.

Vision may exceed know-how here

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My little sister’s birthday is coming up. Turns out I’m really bad at keeping my gift ideas a secret. Over our chat, my evil fingers told her all about what I’m making for her. Well, sort of making. Aspiring to create. I think she’ll still be surprised. Provided I learn robotics posthaste.

While my sister and I were chatting on gmail, my boyfriend asked what I was doing. My evil mouth told him I was writing a poem. I don’t know why I said that. I don’t write poems. Now he wants to read my poem and that’s fine. A chat is a chat is a poem.

 

Is there a Joannes near you?

acmoore only has small bits of fabric
 
there’s a joanne’s around here.

 
what do you need?

i want to make something

Ok

something special

something you’ll cherish forever

i will make you a pillow that is a life size me!

 
Cool

and i’ll put a voice box in her

and powerful remote control
and make her move

That’s just creepy

 
Please 

 
Don’t

she’ll only speak in singsong

Noooooooo

and she’ll always have different clothes on. Your clothes.

Yikes.

and sometimes she’ll sleep under your bed

sometimes you won’t see her for days

then she’ll just be there in your fridge

in your car

at your cubicle

I’m going to have nightmares

 

cool

oh and pillow hailey will age

and you’ll need to feed her

Is pillow Hailey real Hailey

you’ll never know

Ahhhhhhhh

 
Happy Birthday

Lifetime National Park Senior Passes – get them while they’re $10

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Look no further for evidence that our government looks out for its people. Seniors suffering under piles of money will soon get to unburden themselves of this plight. Instead of paying an insultingly meager $10 for a lifetime national park pass, soon they get to pay $80.  Makes sense. Legislation allowing this not-shameful-at-all price hike passed in 2016 so I’m late to the party. Hope I haven’t missed the part where congress pulls chewed food out of seniors’ mouths. Oh, and yanks their worn slippers right off their feet just because they can.

Read about the changes to senior passes.

The price goes up August 28th.

You can buy the pass through YourPassNow. It takes 2 minutes. The holder must be 62 or older. There’s a backlog, but the parks will accept receipts until passes arrive by mail.

These passes are good for the holder’s lifetime. I got one for my Dad. Now he’ll have to dump his cash-stuffed mattress on other things that existed and flourished for millions of years before humans arrived to claim mine. 

Price spike aside, I’m so excited for my Dad to have this pass. He’s never been to a national park. After he received the email confirmation he called to talk about all of the places he wants to go see. My dad is not a phone person. Sometimes I’m mid-sentence when suddenly I hear Okay, bye. CLICK. The phone call alone was worth the $20 ($10 for processing).

Last year, I paid $25 to access Acadia Park for one week. That didn’t include camping or anything other than being there. The $20 pays for itself if the holder visits one park, plus there are other benefits like discounts on camp sites and entry to other public lands.

The pass covers the holder plus passengers.

The Senior Pass is a lifetime pass available to United States citizens or permanent residents 62 years of age or older. The Pass can be used at over 2000 Federal recreation sites across the nation, including National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and many National Forest lands. The Senior Pass admits the Pass owner and any passengers traveling with him/her in a single non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas or the Pass owner and three additional adults where per-person fees are charged. The Senior Pass may also offer a discount on some expanded amenity fees, such as camping. Discounts offered by the Pass vary widely across the many different types of recreation sites. Pass owners are encouraged to check with sites they plan to visit before obtaining a pass to verify that their Pass will be accepted. Anytime a Pass is used, photo identification will be requested to verify Pass ownership.

The receipt you receive after purchase of the Senior Pass may be used as your admittance Pass until your actual Pass arrives in the mail.

I wish these lifetime passes were affordable for everyone, but then how would the National Park Service … um … I have no idea why they need so much more money.

In Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan writes that Voyager 1 and 2 were built at a cost of less than one penny per citizen. I’m reading this book right now so NASA’s inventiveness is top of mind. These spacecrafts were launched in 1977. In 1994, Sagan wrote they were expected to run until 2017 should all go well. They’re still going. Voyager 1 is more than 12 billion miles away in interstellar space while 2 is more than 10 billion miles away. Today, they’re still sending back data and exploring far beyond where anything from Earth has ever flown. Greatness can be accomplished without cutting holes in the public’s pockets.

Maybe NASA could teach the National Park Service how to cut the fat. Or congress could pass more cool legislation. Children do get all that tooth fairy money.

The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman

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The Lost Boys turned 30 this week. I don’t remember the first time I saw this movie, just that I always loved it and that had little to do with the sexy mullets. Kids fight monsters by the grace of comic books and squirt guns. The story’s not quite what you expect it to be. It’s messier than good guys versus bad guys. The POV camera work draws you in decades before GoPro cams existed. When the vampires ride we ride. When they fall we fall. When they fly we fly. They want to take us with them. Maybe that’s why we root for them. And they can’t be taken down because we don’t watch to the very end. Nope.

The Lost Boys is a fun 80’s movie with rich, beautiful people playing wild outsiders on the other side of death. What’s not to love?

Vampire novels are another story. I’ve put many down with a huff – a huff is the ultimate insult in the mean aisles of a library. I still can’t resist looking for meaty ones where the stakes are greater than life and death. Make them want you as more than food and live forever. Better still, save yourself from ever losing those you love. It’s a nice fantasy drawn in blood and violence.

Vampire rhymes with campfire. Therefore not all vampire stories must take themselves so seriously. Full of fast cars and mean monsters, Christopher Buehlman’s The Suicide Motor Club is good fun.

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Buehlman opens this tale like a 70’s horror movie. Late at night on an open moonlit road. Judith rides home from vacation with her husband driving and young son in the back. A red car pulls up beside them. People-not-people with sharp teeth and glowing eyes pull her son from the car window. Like that he’s gone.

They travel at night and take pleasure in killing. Their method of choice is forcing other cars off the road, sending passengers to their deaths or worse. After losing her son and husband, Judith retreats to her faith. She questions the will of god and whether anything possible can really be an abomination.

In The Lost Boys, David and his fellows thirsted for more than blood and offered more than immortality. They were compelling. Here vampires are vicious killers and that’s it. I had trouble telling the vampire characters apart then gave up trying to keep track because it didn’t really matter. Yet it held my attention throughout.

The Suicide Motor Club checks all the boxes for a fun horror novel. I enjoyed its pace and shifting of narratives between the living and undead. It’s a quick, tight, cinematic read that reminds me of the pulp novels I used to be a sucker for, only it’s way better. Buehlman’s writing is clear and energetic. No matter how messy things get or fast the crashes, I always saw what was going on and felt in it, along for the ride.  If there were drive-ins for reading books The Suicide Motor Club could double feature with Lost Souls or Fevre Dream. We could split a funnel cake.

Carnival of Souls (1962), a Lynchy treat

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One of these days I’ll read Dune. Read it and then watch it because that’s what you do when David Lynch and Dale Cooper are your pretend best friends. New Twin Peaks is magical, like following a trail of monster stories up the stars.

Did you see the images of the surface of Betelgeuse? It’s right there, between, oh, 430-650 light years away. That’s a very helpful estimate. I live between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, so now you know where to find me. Betelgeuse is the red star in Orion 1,400 times bigger than our sun. A supergiant living large and dying young. The explosion will be stunning, they say, but probably won’t happen in our lifetime, they say, but maybe it will, they say. Thanks.

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ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/E. O’Gorman/P. Kervella

We may not get to see the death of Betelgeuse in a supernova, but at least we have David Lynch and Cooper back together again. You can’t love Twin Peaks too much, especially not if you’re up with the news. Read the bozo’s and bozo’s family’s and bozo’s cabinet’s and some of the republican party’s daily offenses then watch an episode of Twin Peaks. It’s like spinning in reverse to undo existential dizziness. Effects last a few hours.

Other good times to have, when you need a break from trying to figure out how to help someone you love afford the medications keeping them alive once/if/when/? repubs take away our healthcare, include watching horror masterpieces.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

A friend’s show was rained out so we picked up pupusas with curtido, one of my favorite meals, and watched Carnival of Souls as lightning flashed in what shaped up to be a hazy red sky night. I read that this movie is not copyrighted in the United States. Perhaps that’s why it’s currently available to stream on YouTube.

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Carnival of Souls is about a church organist named Mary who is the only one to walk away from a car crash. After the crash we skip ahead. We don’t know how she survived and maybe she doesn’t either. Right away Mary takes an organist job and moves to a boarding house in Utah. Who knows what she was like before the accident, other than that she seemed to enjoy riding in the drag race. Now she’s detached. The only thing that really interests her is that abandoned resort in the middle of nowhere.

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Somethings off, but it’s subtle until a pale, intent man with dead eyes shows up (played by the Director, Herk Harvey).

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The film’s director Herk Harvey

That’s all I’ll say about the plot. Maybe it’s a ghost story. Maybe it’s about a woman running from her demons. Maybe death will not be cheated. The ambiguity is done with a steady hand. The dream-like quality to the creeping horror is grounded in Mary’s very real terror.

 

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Wes Craven coined the term “rubber reality” to describe introducing the supernatural to the slasher world in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The term aptly describes the unsteady feel of this movie, too. You’re no more sure of what’s real than Mary is. It’s unique and riddled with angst. We’re neither racing to keep up nor two steps ahead. It’s really well done, the kind of movie you feel like clapping for at the end. The only thing I didn’t love was the score. The organ music is fitting, but it’s also grating and unfortunately plentiful.

Fans of David Lynch and the Twilight Zone will get a kick out of this movie. Expect chills not jump scares. And watch it in the dark. I’d love to see it as part of a drive-in double feature. Perhaps paired with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Hiking Slide Mountain in the Catskills

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We were on the road and bound for the Catskills before 4 am Saturday. And still we hit stand-till traffic on a BQE detour. Nothing to do but put on my jams and guzzle coffee. We started this trip with Spoon because they’re boppy. Smooth sailing and a very scenic foggy drive on the NY Thruway to reach the Slide Mountain trailhead around 7 am. The parking lot was mostly empty, which was surprising for a summer Saturday.

Rising to 4,180′, Slide Mountain is the highest peak in the Catskills and one of dozens that top out above 3,500′. Several trails will take you to the summit. The trail up the east side is steeper and looks like a lot of fun, but the trailhead is on a campground we’re staying at in August, so that trail is in a pocket for later. For this trip we traversed the more heavily trafficked western side starting with the Curtis-Ormsbee (yellow) trail. This trail is named after two NY hikers who perished in an ice storm on New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. There’s a stone monument just before, or maybe at, the blue trail junction.

We took the 6.7 mile loop – yellow trail, left on blue trail, right on red then red to yellow back. It’s a mile longer than just going yellow to red and back, but that mile is worth it. The blue trail is gorgeous and varied. It’s very well marked and fun to find your way up the steep stone parts. The second half reaches the magical elevation where every breath is piney fresh. Even the dirt changes to the more sandy texture you find in woods near beaches.

Here’s the DEC’s Slide Mountain trail description:

Curtis-Ormsbee Trail
(1.6 miles, blue markers, moderate 900 feet elevation gain.)

Often referred to as the scenic route up Slide Mountain, the Curtis-Ormsbee trail provides the hiker with three panoramic vistas to the south and west and a moderate “terraced” ridge hike through stunted northern hardwoods. It is named in memory of William Curtis and Allen Ormsbee who originally blazed this route and later lost their lives during a mountaineering expedition in the White Mountains in 1900.

Most of the trail offered full shade. The rain from hours prior trickled down rocky streams. We saw salamanders and cooled off by placing our wrists in cold flowing water. Everything was so green and gorgeous. I know it’s summer and these are woodsy mountains and green is a natural part of that picture, but I was full of wows. High-fives to my boyfriend for not rolling his eyes around the hundredth time I said, look how green it is. Green green green. GREEEEN.

Curtis-Ormsbee trail

That up there is the only bridge we encountered. Of course, it reminded me of the dancing on a log scene in Dirty Dancing, shot in the Catskills. I beckoned Raj from the center, but he refused to dance out to me like Baby did. Dream killed.

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A little ways down from the bridge comes the blue trail junction, and it’s impossible to miss unless you’re hiking with eyes closed. Don’t do that. We were very happy to finally begin the ascent – the yellow trail is mostly flat after an initial gradual climb.

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This mountain is deceptive. Every time we thought we were at the top, the trail just kept going. I’m glad we took a few breaks to fully take in the quiet and savor the pure air and bird songs. The switch from blue to red trail is not well marked if it’s marked at all. We only noticed it because some trail runners happened to be passing on the red. All eyes or you might miss it.

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We stopped here for a bite. This is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever eaten a peanut butter jelly sandwich. Once you hit the red trail, it’s not far from the very unceremonious summit. It’s just a block of concrete, a former base of a fire tower. There are higher points, but this is what I read marks the summit. Don’t turn back yet though. Continue for just a few more minutes and you’ll come to a big rock. Make your way down and around to see the plaque for naturalist and writer John Burroughs, who often wrote about Slide Mountain. Not a bad writing spot.

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We took the red trail to the yellow trail back to the parking lot. We planned to hike the Giant Ledge after since the trailhead is only 2 miles up the road, but were tired, tired, tired and went to our campground instead. We’ll do it next time when we can enjoy it more.

We stayed at the Kenneth Wilson campground. This was a last minute trip and others were all booked. It worked out though. The woodsy grounds are completely surrounded by mountains. The facilities were clean and showers surprisingly warm. After setting up our tent on a soft bed of pine needles, we visited the pond and nature trails. I was a little anxious about staying here because many of the reviews mentioned bear sightings. The staff said they’ve only had one sighting this summer and it was a cub. The camp is very strict about bear prevention – no food/cosmetics/drinks left unattended, no food scraps in the sink, etc. As a result, the place is pristine. I didn’t want to leave. My only complaint was the cloudy sky keeping the stars all to itself.

Let’s talk walking sticks.

Wonderful hikers left perfect walking sticks at the trailhead. As one of the first ones in the lot, we had our pick. I grabbed one, expecting to drop it and forget it after a few minutes, but no. We bonded.

This was my first time hiking with a walking stick. How have I gone so long without one? Right away I was amazed at the handiness. These sturdy sticks lent stability on muddy ground and took stress off my knees on the ascent and descent. They boosted endurance, speed and balance. I used mine to prod for loose rocks and help my posture since my shoulders like to hunch when there’s a backpack on them. Also, I can’t help being scared of bears. It was comforting to have something solid I could use to protect myself juuuust in case the rare one tried to eat me.

Walking sticks are MVPs. They’re my new adventure mascot. I love walking sticks. When this is all over, walking stick and I shall build a creepy cabin together.

Appalachian Trail hike at the Delaware Water Gap

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Back from house sitting in the Poconos. Made the mistake of opening an Atlantic article on the Senate’s healthcare proposals. No. No. And No. Not good for my rage. Does rage count as a preexisting condition? Life seemed okay a few hours ago, driving back listening first to Weezer’s Pinkerton then Sabbath’s Master of Reality. Felt like putting my skin back on. My boyfriend shared the sentiment, though de-creepified it by liking these albums to a favorite pair of pants instead. Who wants to put on pants when it feels like 90 degrees out? Choose wisely. I’m sticking to my skin.

My preferred route from the city to Poconos is via I-80, provided I get up early enough to zip through Manhattan and the Holland Tunnel. I-80 has an exit for the Appalachian Trail at the Delaware Water Gap. It puts you right in the trailhead parking lot. We’ve driven by it many times, always tempted to stop but quick with an excuse not to – too hot, too late, too hungry. This time I planned ahead. Rain began to fall as soon as we parked but quit after a few minutes so the very rocky trail didn’t get too slippery.

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The first part of this trail follows a rushing creek with small waterfalls. Then there’s a split. The AT ascends and the Dunnfield Creek Trail continues along the creek. Both trails will eventually take you up to Sunfish Pond (on the AT it’s 3.75 miles). The mosquitoes and heat were too much this time, but the pond loop is on my to-hike list for next time. There were so many hikers on the trail that I didn’t even think about bears.

House sitting coincided with a heat wave, which inspired a lot of swimming and very early morning runs. I read, reluctantly worked and baked some brownie sludge. Mostly, I swam by day and at night watched Twin Peaks and horror movies before laying out under the stars. It was great. I kept thinking, Why can’t this be all I do? 

It wasn’t until driving back and impossibly torn on which route to take – Manhattan VS. Staten Island, always a gamble – that I realized I was just a few chlorine-soaked swims short of turning into a shriveled pool zombie. After a week of mental checkout, it’s hard to check back in. I went on the pop tart diet of lifestyles and then complained of malnutrition.

We’re back in steamy Brooklyn and our neighborhood smells like burnt pickles. The neighbor’s fence-that-will-never-be has morphed. Now there are partial brick walls, deep ditches and wood planks slapped up to give the place a certain this-is-where-bad-things-happen feel. It wants my skull and not in a boppy Misfits way.

My sister got a promotion at work and my bf passed a certification. I injured my wrist dong something stupid and can’t really move it or use it, but did get the monstrous air conditioner in the window one-handed. So yup. We’re all winners this week.

My wrist is getting better, which is good because I only own so many dresses. The most ordinary tasks are tricky one-handed, like squeezing toothpaste on the toothbrush or putting on shorts. Washing a glass. Working. Eating SO Delicious mint chip ice cream is doable, possibly the cure.

 

Reclusion all I ever wanted

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They’re into week five of Project Slo-Mo Fence Build next door. These are the same neighbors who allowed scaffolding to remain on their building for three years, which was quite fun to walk under late at night. We call them The Fancies because there are children around. It is becoming a wonder, the construction of this fence. The fence itself is more of a notion. Workers do spend hard hours laboring. I know because I work from home and breathe their smoke. Their smoke comes in our window. No matter how many times a day I ask them not to smoke right below our window they smoke right below our window. So I put a fan there. It’s something.

My dad smoked heavily for more than twenty years. He’s a meat and potatoes, black coffee and beets’ll kill ya very grounded man. But he also buys warts off of people. When he couldn’t quit smoking on his own he went to a hypnotist. He said they had a casual conversation and when he left he noticed he didn’t feel like a cigarette. After a few days of not wanting one, he threw his last pack away. That was over ten years ago and he’s never smoked again.

Suggest hypnosis to people trying to quit smoking and most will look at you very differently. Never again will they believe your wand is just a pointer because you suffer from short arms. Plain ordinary Lipton’s tea goes cold unless you take a sip first. All for trying to help.

Apparently you can’t hypnotize people against their will and you really can’t hypnotize them into doing something they don’t want to do. The fence builders don’t seem to want to stop smoking anymore than they seem to want to finish this fence.

I need to go away forever, and if not forever than for a little while. My bf just started a new project so our travel plans are pushed back. Spending a weekend in NJ helping my sister move doesn’t count, but house sitting for my other sister does. It’s like a mini vacation. There are trails, a pool and all their animals! Counter space in the kitchen and quiet everywhere. I’ll be able to see more than three stars at night. No sirens, construction or NYC! Maybe I was a little too excited when they asked me to house sit. At first they thought I’d misunderstood and took it has an invitation to go on their vacation with them. Um, no.

I’m packing the essentials – bathing suit, hiking boots, running shoes, stack of books. Reclusive days ahead!

Haunted haunted haunted

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The Super Sister, Help Me Move signal was sounded again. My little sister has two oak credenzas. Do you know how heavy oak credenzas are? I do. Down a flight of stairs then up a flight of stairs. Always the second floor. This time she moved into a converted creamery near our hometown. A real creamery. To keep milk cold the metal buckets were kept in a creek that used to run through the dirt floor. Then it housed horses. Now it houses my little sister.

Massive wood beams in unexpected places and wild flowers out the window. A makeshift bridge over the shifted creek takes you to an abandoned shack of unknown origin. At night there are noises, paranormal noises.

Her last place was too new for ghosts so paranormal speculation focused on the surrounding woods. The one before had a jagged hole in a closet ceiling leading to a windowless attic full of strange footsteps too heavy and steady to belong to a squirrel or raccoon. Every time we talked on the phone I heard voices in the background even though she swore she was alone. That place was surrounded by empty vacation mansions but we convinced ourselves someone was living in the walls of her cold, tiny hut.

Fun fact: In his memoir Iron Man Tony Iommi wrote about hearing voices in his home. Turned out squatters were actually living in his walls.

After one of my sister’s first moves, we discovered the basement crawl space beside the washer/dryer smelled like one of those rainbow swirl lollipops she always begged for as a kid and never ate. That was an easy case to solve. She was clearly being haunted by the restless remains of unfinished snacks.

Now that I’m no longer losing my grip on her hefty-bottomed couch, I appreciate her new home’s slightly uneven staircase and odd angles. The porch is a nice place to doze off while counting bruises. A woman walked by chatting on her phone, trailing a very tired little boy behind her. We tired people can spot our kind with one eye open. Also he said, I’m tired. The woman told him to sing his song. He said, No. I’m tired… tired… tired.

That kid is onto something. Tripling a point is magical. Degree of intensity is hard to express when you’re consumed by a single sensation. Today I ate a cookie for lunch because it was within arm’s reach and I was hungry… hungry… hungry but still too sore to do much else about it. This was the sixth move I helped a sister with in the last two years. That may not sound like much, but they’re all readers who like heavy wood furniture and steps.

My boyfriend thinks our imagined hauntings are the cause of these constant moves. He doesn’t share my family’s affinity for ghost stories. I’m not even allowed to hide when he gets home or takes a shower and I love…love…love jumping out and scaring people.

Convincing my younger sister that every place she moves to is haunted probably negates any good I do my karma by helping her move. I accept that. And it’s not mean because this way she never feels alone. She loves it. And anyway she started it.