November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

LL and I spent Thanksgiving with my family. We started out with Thanksgiving dinner in upstate New York and then moved on to another Thanksgiving in central Pennsylvania at the Nittany Mountain KOA camp, which is owned by my sister-in-law and her partner. Yes, two Thanksgiving dinners. I don't remember the last time I ate so much. My family is rather non-traditional; aside from my sister and brother-in-law, nobody is married to one another, so we're all partners, but still family. I'm not sure what that means, if anything, but I think we've all sort of come to the same conclusions about the institution of marriage in general. It's an unusually diverse group of people, too, in terms of ethnicity and education and everything else. We're certainly not the typical 2.2-kids middle class model. We can certainly eat, though.

LL and I stayed in the cabin shown above. One of the first people we met at the camp was a nearby camper who goes by the name of Snooky. Snooky is obsessed with blowing leaves. He spends whole days, from sunrise to sunset, with his leaf blower. Things could be worse, I suppose... he could be obsessed with an axe. To say the guy is eccentric is probably an understatement. Meeting him made me wonder if Stephen King has ever written a story about a leaf blowing maniac.

Of course, there were other things to do beside blowing leaves. My niece, for instance, prefers playing miniature golf to just about anything else. She has her own rules for the game, the first of which is "I win!" When she got tired, she had the good fortune of free and unlimited access to the camp store, so she could always "sugar up" on candy and hot cocoa when she started getting tired. I've sat through hurricanes that packed less energy than that kid. For her, the long weekend consisted of miniature golf, Spongebob and sugar. Oh, and telling all the adults how to play whatever game she made up at the moment. It's too bad none of us had nearly the same energy she does.

There's a petting zoo at the camp. LL made friends with a couple of goats. My niece, for whatever reasons, wasn't generally too interested in the animals. Not all of the animals present were from the petting zoo; my brother-in-law's mother (my aunt-in-law? I still don't know the proper kinship term) brought along her pug, Zeus. Also present was a ridiculously friendly three-legged cat; he lost the fourth leg in a jaw trap some years ago and makes do with the remaining limbs as best he can. There was also a very hyperactive Maltese named CD and a few other critters lurking about.

What family gathering would be complete without at least one faux pas? Ours took the form of a social misstep by my sister-in-law's partner's daughter's boyfriend (I dare anyone to give me the kinship term for that relationship!) delivering a line about how mean Arabs are while LL was sitting at the table. This was made a bit funnier by the fact that the guy is half Italian and half Jamaican himself and was meeting the family for the first time. It was all taken in stride with good humor and a quick comeback from LL resulting in a blush and an embarrassed "Oh, are you Arab?" from Alfredo, the boyfriend in question. I don't think anyone will be letting him live that one down anytime soon.

We stayed at the camp and ate ridiculously well through Saturday night, then left early on Sunday morning to begin the trip home. I decided to take a detour through Binghamton on the way to check out a few places that were part of my life about 20 years ago when I lived up there. The first stop was at 160 Conklin Avenue, a house that I lived in during my first stint at university. I lived there with five other students, including one girlfriend, in a sort of commune that resulted in the place being called Helter Shelter. There were a lot of drugs and craziness. The place is essentially the spot where my life absolutely went to pieces and I felt a need to revisit the site of the most traumatic time in my existence. It hasn't changed at all. In fact, it looks as if it hasn't seen so much as a coat of paint since I left in 1988. To me, it seems a dark, brooding, decaying place, perhaps a bit Lovecraftian in its presence. It's like a combination of fossil and historic landmark in my life. Standing there at the corner of Conklin and John was surreal; I felt as if I were dreaming, especially because LL was there with me. My room in the house was the one with the windows just above the door in this photo. The door itself was the spot where, in 1987, a guy named Jimmy Puccio drank a votive candle full of hot wax thinking it was a shot of tequila and then passed out. He's probably long forgotten about the incident, wherever he is now. If there were such a thing as ghosts, this house would certainly be haunted by the spirits of many acid trips, not to mention some devastating heartbreaks. I wouldn't want to be the poor slobs living in it now in that case. In my mind, at least, this is a place with much mojo.

After my pilgrimage to Helter Shelter, I headed to the SUNY Binghamton campus. Everything was closed and parking was no problem. We visited College-in-the-Woods, dorms I'd been tossed out of years ago after my roommate and I accidentally set a fire in Oneida Hall that got the place evacuated at 4 AM in the middle of a winter night. You see, we wanted to find out whether Bacardi 151 was really flammable, so we filled the cap of a peanut butter jar with the stuff and lit it. It ignited, of course... and then my roommate jerked his hand away and knocked over the entire bottle onto my desk. That set off the alarms and destroyed a couple of my textbooks and all of my notebooks, too. The next day, we were told that we could no longer live on campus. We wound up finding a place in Johnson City, right on Main Street. That's what's shown in the image to the right; our apartment was the top floor of the building to the right of the one with the "1892" decoration on the top. I lived there for about a year with my roommate, Duncan, as well as the son of the Fijian ambassador to the United States. After that year, I took some time off from school. By the time I got back, Duncan had graduated and I wound up living at Helter Shelter. The store with the blue awning, now a clothing store, used to be a sub shop called The Pig Out. It had the best spiedies in all of Broome County, and I'd been hoping to take LL there, but it's gone. Actually, most of the storefronts on Main Street are empty these days. Downtown Johnson City is a very sad, desolate place. Even Fat Cat Books, an institution for Triple Cities comic book and RPG fans, moved out of downtown. The building it once occupied, just across the street from my old apartment, now sits empty.

We spent some time poking around the area and then got back on the road home. Along the way, we got hungry and stopped for lunch in Cobleskill. Not wanting to hit the usual fast food places, LL chose our lunch spot, a diner on route 9 attached to the Colonial Motel — the Diner Motel. Not the Motel Diner, mind you, but the Diner Motel. Seeing that they'd gotten the name wrong on the sign, we probably should have known better than to eat there... but we went ahead and did it anyhow. I ordered grilled chicken on a pita, expecting something like a gyro. What I got was a piece of grilled chicken on a pita and nothing else. This was easily the most literal lunch I've ever eaten. It was exactly one piece of chicken breast on half of a pita with no lettuce, no tomato, no onions, no nothing. LL ordered a proper gyro, but that was bland and useless, too. After lunch, we agreed that the best thing about the food we'd just had was that it probably wouldn't make us sick.

Because our own GPS unit is in the shop for repairs, we were traveling with a loaner. Quick qord of advice here; avoid the Mio GPS like the plague. We told the thing to avoid toll roads and, as if to punish us, it took us on the most backwards, time-wasting route home possible. At one point we even wound up on a dirt road (Tory Hill Road) somewhere near Central Brunswick, NY. We were trying to avoid taking the Mass Pike, but we finally gave in and took it and paid for that mistake by getting stuck in a traffic jam that easily added close to hours to our trip. We finally got off 90 and picked up 20... but that was backed up, too. The final insult came when we got off 20 and onto Stafford Road, just a couple of miles from home. I was pulled over by a cop because I had a license plate frame. No kidding; license plate frames are technically illegal in Massachusetts, and this particular cop decided to stop me because of it. Luckily, he gave me a warning instead of a ticket. By that time, though, we'd been on the road for more than twelve hours. Ugh. We left New Columbia, PA at 6:00 AM. By the time we got back to Worcester, it was 8:30 PM. It was an awful trip. Next year, we'll do things differently. I don't know how, but I'm not doing that haul on a holiday weekend ever again.

The weekend was great, the road trip sucked, and I'm now functioning on 3.5 hours of sleep, having awakened at 1:30 this morning for no good reason I can fathom. I have to teach lab until 9:00 tonight, too. It's going to be a looooooooooooong day.

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