TRAVELING WITH FAIRIES

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Living on the lake has always been coupled with a driving desire to leave, partly because we know we will always return. Another reason lies in the fact that a lot of what happens at our house and yard requires constant attention and upkeep. It’s rare that a day at the lake is spent resting on the dock reading a good book between naps and a long swim. One of those things might happen after a day of chores. So I am always thinking about the next trip.

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Photo by Robert Forlini

As an Italian, Rob has a difficult time getting in the car and actually driving away. The unspoken fear is, “Who will watch the house?” Growing up in a close-knit compound where three neighboring homes were occupied by blood relatives, there was always someone around to keep an eye on things. The only people around us are an odd collection of neighbors we refer to as “The crazy house,” “The troglodyte,” “Buzz bomb,” “The drug addicts,” and “Scary.” Not exactly a rousing recommendation. But after the trip has been planned and the light timers are set, the wooden pole is slipped into the sliding glass door and the alarm is turned on we barrel away on an adventure accompanied by any number of talismans.Image

These trinkets hold deep and guarded powers over our lives except they probably only hold the power we have assigned to them. There’s Gobo the little Italian hunchback who hangs from the car’s rearview mirror. If you rub his hump he wards off the evil eye and brings you good luck. I’m not sure what evil spirits await us on our journeys but it’s good to know we have that covered before even pull out of the driveway.

Inside our pockets we have silver Chinese coins that have pictures of the animal of our birth year. I was born in the Year of the Dog and I have two of them. I lost the first one and Rob diligently replaced it. The other day I pulled out a pair of shorts for the arrival of warm weather and the original dog coin fell out of the pocket.

“That’s a good omen,” Rob said.

The next day we discovered a long lost blown glass fruit bowl we had decided a visiting handy man had stolen. For years we pulled up the example of the missing fruit bowl as another indication for why you just can’t trust people and you can never have enough safeguards. When we found the fruit bowl buried under platters in the back of a high cabinet we changed our tune.

Rob declared, “When you found that coin your luck changed. Maybe now you’ll find your lost watch!”

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My Chinese zodiac symbol is earth dog. It is associated with the turn of each of the four seasons. It governs the spleen, stomach, mouth and muscles. Its negative emotion is anxiety and its positive emotion is empathy. But I really like the way rabbit coins look so I have one of those too. Rob tells me that the rabbit isn’t doing much for me.

Rob and I have placed guardians all around us. Garden gnomes watch over the lawn, a Lucky Cat statue safeguards the books. We pay homage to our ancestors with their pictures on the mantel.

But the charm I hold most dear is a small silver fairy that I wear around my neck whenever I fly on an airplane. My oldest sister gave me the fairy in 1970 and I partly believe in it’s power because I haven’t ever lost it. It harkens back to an era of hippies and free spirits. My fairy and I lift the plane into the air and safely land the equipment onto the runway. The captain helps but I know that my fairy and I assure our safe return.

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Admitting all of this goes against what I have always believed about our adult selves. We travel with plans. We scope out a detailed itinerary that includes roadside attractions, well researched restaurants, side trips and we only stay at hotels with high marks on Trip Advisor. We allow logic and reason to guide us through most of life. We are firm believers in science and evolution and scoff at organized religions and the zealots who hold their faith dear. We do not believe that catastrophic weather is the result of a pissed-off God. We laugh at the television evangelists preaching to thousands of blinking congregants who nod their heads in agreement.

“Sheep!” Rob barks as he changes the channel.

Followers of God accept truth in the unseen. Their faith is something deep inside them and they believe life’s randomness are acts of God. “God works in mysterious ways” or “only God knows” are common responses to unexplained events.

So you might think that our affection for good luck charms is more than a little duplicitous. We could probably become members of the Church of the Good Luck Charm. The difference lies in the fact we know these things are trinkets. At the end of the day I know the fruit bowl was there all along and why the coin fell out of my pocket and the pilot, weather conditions and air traffic control landed the plane safely.

But the fairy makes me feel better.

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BROKEN REMINDERS

I have been waiting my whole life for my real life to begin. There is always a lingering distant opportunity of something better. Whenever I travel I see the latent possibilities of what life would be like if I only lived there. I see where I would shop, walk to yoga classes, drop off my dry cleaning and eat. I watch myself through the glass as a happy customer in the window seat enjoying a glass of Malbec with smiling friends. I am well dressed, I am thin, I am popular. I am famous. Then we go home.

It is an odd feeling that certainly doesn’t fill every waking moment but it’s out there. Since late August I have been in Collegeville Pennsylvania-twice, Seattle, Baltimore, and Tampa. Each time I return home I feel three things. The lost potential, relief at the sight of my own bed and the weight of the work that has been left undone. Doing my chores helps to ground me back into my routine. It reassures me that this is my life and it started long ago. As the days between trips add up I start to forget about any fantasy.

Two weeks ago after returning from a trip we put both the yard and house back in order. I stumbled to bed exhausted and stubbed my toe.

“I think it’s broken,” I wailed.

Rob ran downstairs and fetched a bag of ice.

“They can’t do anything for a broken toe,” he said, laying the ice pack over my blue toes and handing me two Motrin.

“Nothing?”

“Just gotta suck it up.”

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After a few days of rest and ice everyone expects you to get back to business. It’s not a big enough injury to curry favor but it nags at you and impedes everyday activities that you still seem to be able to do. You hobble off to work and home again. Only now the dust collects in the corners and leaves pile up outside. You groan at the exertion it will take to simply gather up the pieces of the Sunday paper spread across the living room floor.

My stepfather called and said it best. “A broken toe is nothing more than a nuisance.”

“That’s it,” I exclaimed.

I repeated that all week long when people shook their heads in understanding as I dragged my foot along. “Just a nuisance,” I said, to let them off the hook. They are also tired of my toe.

I collapsed late Friday afternoon on a kitchen stool and stared out at the lake. The distance of the dock is foreboding and off limits. It may as well belong to someone else. I try to remain satisfied with the view but find myself daydreaming about my real life that just hasn’t started yet.

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BORROWED LANDSCAPES

ImageI try to choose homes with a view. Our first apartment in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn was on the top floor of a third floor walkup. During the 1985 centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty we hosted a roof-top party with a clear line view of New York Harbor. Our friends ate, drank and danced to fireworks but what they really talked about was the view. 

Then we moved out to the North Fork of Suffolk County and we had to walk around the corner to the view. The Long Island Sound stretched out endlessly from the tops of enormous beach boulders. The winter was cold and lonely for newlyweds who missed city life but the view of the Sound helped sustain us that entire year. I still miss it.

            Our next apartment was a dump in Yonkers in a crummy neighborhood where I made the mistake of staring at a neighbor’s Mohawk haircut a few seconds too long. The girl shouted out every time she saw me.

“Hey lady, what’re you staring at?”

It worsened when the girl stared calling out to Rob.

“Hey, man what is your wife staring at?”

“There really is no good answer to that question,” Rob said.

 For obvious reasons we only lived there a year as well but the backdoor faced out into an expansive valley with colorful houses that dotted the landscape. I could sit on the back staircase free to watch the sunset each night with no thought of seeing “the girl.”

We moved to Hastings-on Hudson and for nine years we gazed at the Palisades out two picture windows. I used to stand in a darkened kitchen in the middle of the night and watch the flashing green lights on the passing barges. It didn’t matter if it was a blizzard, you would find the slow, steady chug of the barges as a source of comfort.Image

In 1997 we moved to White Plains and lived on the top floor of a house that was built on the highest point of land in the entire city. From our veranda we had a line of site view of the World Trade Center Towers. We bought our lake house and moved away before they came down and I’m glad we weren’t there anymore to be constantly reminded. Because when you have something in your daily view you start to feel like it belongs to you. The Japanese refer to this as a “borrowed landscape.”

The best way to appreciate a borrowed landscape is to leave it. Once you return the relationship strengthens. We recently returned from a trip to Seattle to visit my brother and his wife. Their beautiful house rests on the top of Sixth Avenue in Edmonds, Washington with a partial view of the Puget Sound.

“Wow, what a great view, “ I noted.

“It is,” my bother agreed. “But if we could tear that house down it would be an even better view.”

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View from Chris and Sonia’s House

The point was hard to argue except everybody blocks someone, somewhere. But their view still boasted a daily surveillance of the Kingston Ferry traveling back and forth and the sun setting over the Puget Lowland, hard to beat. While I was there I found myself taking some ownership of their view and I started to miss my own so I knew it was time to leave. Traveling provides views of every variety and most of them aren’t meant to last, which is why we buy postcards and take photographs. Even stationary views are altered by light and shadow. Our most impressive view was of Mt. Rainier at sunset that Rob took from the airplane window as we began our descent into Seattle. It isn’t one anyone is likely to see again anytime soon. Image