Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Vermonty Python

By Cornelia

[So, two apologies are in order--one is that this is a rambling and relatively pointless blog post (although with lots of pictures) and two is that I didn't post last Wednesday because the day before I went to Vermont PG&E did some roadwork and cut off our power, and then I had to go to Vermont. That being said....]

My mother often sent us off on our travels with a cheerful wave at the front doorframe as she called out the words "talk to strangers!"

Maybe that's why I ended up being one of those people who love to chat on airplanes (unless it's really bumpy, in which case I am one of those people who discovers a sudden passion for the Lord's Prayer and any random mantras that come to mind, while I keep my eyes squinched shut and maintain a good grip on each armrest... but that's a whole other story.)

Anyway, I've met some great people over the years because they happened to be my seatmates on various flights here and there. Last week I got to fly to Vermont to see Aunt Julie and Uncle Bill, who pass as the "straight" people in our family, given that they've stayed married and stuff, though they're admirably wacky in all other respects.

I admit that I slept on the Oakland-to-Atlanta leg of the flight, looking like a complete geek in my Ghost and Mrs. Muir Charles-Nelson-Riley-homage eyeshade thingie,

not to mention with earplugs in, but I had a great time talking with a guy named David Morse on the Atlanta-to-Albany portion. Morse lives in Santa Cruz and makes violins, and I was way psyched that I got to say, "so, you're a luthier?" which I only know because I am a fiend for Robertson Davies novels, and he had a pack of Gypsy violin-makers in one of them.

We talked about his trips to Yugoslavia to buy trees for lumber, the war in Vietnam, gallbladders, novel writing, whether or not violinists are the most high-strung people in an orchestra, and his fortieth high school reunion in Albany that weekend. Great guy.

Our flight landed in Albany at 11:58 p.m., and I was a little nervous about the whole rental car thing, since all the car rental counters shut promptly at midnight. I raced out of the plane and sprinted for the Hertz counter, at which I met this really cool Greek lady who upgraded me to a Subaru Outback wagon since my daughter had just come home from Greece and we had a great time talking about Crete and stuff.

And then I set out on Route 7 for Vermont, up and over the state border to the east. It was great to tune the radio to WEQX just like old times when I lived in the Berkshires, and as I was passing Bennington, the Isley Brothers' "Shout" came on, which cracked me up because that's the song Otis Day and the Knights play at the toga party (I think) in Animal House,

and there's that great scene later in the movie where all the Delta house dudes take a road trip to the artsy chick college--which could so totally be Bennington--where some co-ed they don't actually know has recently died in A Tragic Kiln Explosion and everything. Anyway, they all run into Otis et al again in some roadhouse there.

So I got to think it was cool that Peter Riegert would like to make a movie out of my book, and I raised my soda in a little toast to him, there in the car, since he was in that and stuff. Although I am not sure I would actually TELL him that, because it must get a little tiresome to have practically everyone wanting to talk about the first movie you ever made, all the time--especially when you've made a lot of extremely fine ones in addition to the first.

(Here at the Chateau Ultra-Trashy, we like him especially since, when my Intrepid Spouse said, "I would like him to get me a no-show job on the Esplanade Project, as part of your option deal," Mistah Riegert replied via email, "I have spoken with Tony Soprano, and while there are no more Esplanade openings, we have agreed that your husband may be able to get work as a tour guide at The Museum of Science and Trucking.")

But the actual REASON I was in Vermont was that Aunt Julie very kindly harassed a local bookstore into inviting me for a signing--Misty Valley Books in fashionable Chester, Vermont, in fact. MVB is run by the inimitable Bill and Lynne Reed, who are tremendously cool people despite the questionable spelling of their last name (*cough*).

They do a lot of wonderful book-related events, but my new favorite is their "Gourmet Mystery Series." This is where, once a month, they invite a mystery author to do a signing, and then everybody goes next door afterwards for a dutch-treat dinner at the Fullerton Inn (a place which makes a very nice chicken piccata and seriously excellent roasted carrots, by the way.)

Aunt Julie mustered the troops for this, which was way cool. There were lots of people I have known since practically birth in attendance, because it seems as though just about everyone who used to live on Long Island, way back in misty antiquity when my parents were still married, has now moved to Vermont--and who can blame them as it is a very nice place indeed. I mean, here is another view of downtown Chester:

Which, hello, for quaintness you pretty much can't beat with a proverbial stick.

One of the people who came out for the signing was Mimi Neff, who stood up during the Q&A portion of the evening to say that she had known me since BEFORE I was born, and that I used to take naps alongside her son Michael in his crib when I was a little kid, and we both started to tear up a little over all of that.

It was actually at Mimi's house that I once sampled a bottle of liquid Lemon Pledge, on a hot summer afternoon when the two babysitters each thought the other one was watching me, and it was nice to live through that as you might imagine. This was while Mimi and Mom were out doing some regatta for Ladies' Sailing at Seawanhaka on Oyster Bay, and they had to send the launch out to get Mom off her boat so she could go to the hospital with me in Mineola.

The launch, by the way, looked like this, even years later in 1964:

I did not mention that when Mimi was talking however, since everybody was having a pretty good time and it seems a little ridiculous to bring up near-fatal infant poisonings in the middle of a book signing, at least when you were the infant.

I think the signing went pretty well. I didn't puke, which is always nice, and people seemed to be enjoying themselves. One of the kindest responses to my schtick was that of Dr. Roger Fox, a polo-playing Brit dude who was enticed to come to Vermont and run a medical clinic "for a couple of years" in the mid-sixties, but has never managed to leave, for which we are all grateful. He told me he hadn't realized I was related to Sandy Read, an uncle from my dad's side of the family who lives in Manchester, Vermont.

Dr. Fox said, "it all made sense to me, though, when you were speaking, as if I'd shut my eyes it could have been Sandy up there--you have the same talent with a throwaway line." Uncle Sandy is pretty much the most charming Read ever, so that was high praise indeed. He wrote and illustrated one of my all-time favorite books, The Bear with the Orvis Rod:

Which is the story of a bear who finds an Orvis gift certificate and outfits himself with a mess of trout-fishing gear, whereupon he lands a prize-winning Brookie. Great stuff.

He and my Aunt Signe lived for many years in Peru, Vermont, and I once had the pleasure of house-sitting for them for a long weekend, shortly after graduating from college. Unfortunately, I did not know that they had installed stereo speakers on the outside of their house, and when I decided to play the original cast album of The Threepenny Opera at tremendously high volume one night, I had cranked up Lotte Lenya singing "Mack the Knife" in German so very loud that I think I gave the horses a heart attack.

They are all very cool people, and talented in many-splendoured ways. Like, here is a sculpture by my cousin Susie Read Cronin:

Titled, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut." Her stuff always reminds me of very excellent New Yorker cartoons done in bronze, which I think is a way fine thing.

So the signing (I think I was actually talking about the signing?) seemed to go pretty well, and people were wonderfully generous and bought lots of books, and then we all had cocktails and dinner at the inn next door, and I got to table-hop and talk to everyone, and the Reeds are totally great people and I hope they invite me back next year to do this again.

And after that we all went back to Aunt Julie and Uncle Bill's house and had more cocktails with a few of the heartier folk, which eventually devolved into Julie and me breaking out her wedding scrapbook because I was the flower girl and everything, and a good time was had by all--plus I got to sign more books and tell everyone to look for Aunt Julie's cameo appearance on page 262.

So all of that was a lot of fun, and I got to go to the Vermont Country Store the next day with cousin Kimberley and her beau David, to pick up these toothpicks that Intrepid Spouse is fond of,

And the Vermont Country store is a wonderful place jam-packed with all kinds of old-school stuff--from cobalt blue bottles of "Evening in Paris" perfume

to ginormous containers of Necco Wafers:

And Lanz nighties:

Which, granted, are not exactly Fredericks-of-Hollywood wear, but I suppose it's nice to know SOMEBODY still sells them, if you have a flannel fetish (which I do not, by the way. Because, ewwww, that would be entirely too goyish. Especially in Vermont.)

And here is what it looks like inside the store, just because I think you should know:

Soooo, it was all good until I tried to LEAVE to come home, which United Airlines seemed hell bent on preventing, to tell you the truth. I got to the airport in plenty of time and returned the nice Greek lady's Subaru and everything, only once I got through security--having carefully checked the bag with all my gels and liquids in it and taken off my bracelets so that the only thing that would beep in the metal detector thing was my underwires, which is always a tad embarrassing, and then I get to the gate and everything and there's NO PLANE.

First they start announcing that the plane is still in D.C., with mechanical troubles, but is expected to arrive in Albany around 9:35 p.m., which happens to be about five minutes AFTER my second plane was due to leave Dulles for Oakland, so that entirely sucked. But, as I emailed a friend later that night,

On the bright side, I grabbed prime position to be first in line the minute they announced that the plane was still in D.C. with "mechanical difficulties" but did not harass the counter guy with "does this mean I'll miss my connection?" questions before they officially tanked the flight, and so was the only one who got a hotel voucher and had my bag sent back to ticketing while we were all still standing upstairs at the gate. Nice to have the old Manhattanite Machiavellian moves kick in as reflex, without even brain-stem involvement. Decent hotel despite extreme cheese factor of plastic-gilt-framed bad foxhunting print plethora, not to mention fake "rural village" courtyard/atrium (under glass) for winter guests, and apparently some sort of skeet shooting range in the swamp outside my window. Fuck it, there's a free bed and a hot bath with my name on it. And I'm all about gratis Business Center emailing.

Also, I felt kind of bad for the male staff at the Hotel Desmond (think Norma, only more plastic),

since the management forces them to wear ersatz Colonial Wear, including knee breeches--even the poor guy who has to drive the shuttle van back and forth to the airport:

But they did a really really nice job with the 4 a.m. wakeup call the next day, so that was decent of them, and I made my flight with plenty of time to spare as soon as I'd once again checked my bag with the gels and liquids in it and gone through security with my underwires beeping and having to do the whole pat-down routine. It all would have been fine if Intrepid hadn't had to take ANOTHER morning off work, on the day when they had some out of town IT guy in to do training, so he was pretty cranky about the whole thing even though I said if I could have fixed the plane myself I would have been out on the tarmac with a wrench lickety split.

Not that I blame him, since he has been remarkably patient about the whole childcare thing during times when I've been on the road for book stuff. And despite the fact that I was always remarkably patient when HE went on the road for work, so you might think it's only fair that he sucks this up without complaint, the difference is that he actually got paid for it and it's still kind of debatable whether or not my travels will enhance the familial bottom line here. Plus which I am hoping to butter him up to cover the home front when I travel again, especially since these other movie people would like to fly me to L.A. after Labor Day, to discuss a possible screenplay, which is not something you want a cranky spouse having to pitch in for, you know?

Next time, I am flying Jetblue, even if I have to hitchhike at the end. I love Jetblue.

And here is something that made me laugh, speaking of airports--I tried to check Naked Authors from a mil-spec coin-op computer terminal at O'Hare, and the ISP wouldn't let me log on here because of "questionable content" which they felt might "offend your fellow travelers."

So, we must be doing something right, I think.

And now I will stop rambling, with just a few last words of parting advice

Never order the quesadilla in a midwestern airport.

Especially with chicken.

Because it will NOT taste like this:

It will taste like THIS:

And now I am really and truly finished with all of this random babbling.

As such, I bid you to "arise, go forth, and conquer".... and don't forget to talk to strangers.


  1. I adore this post, and I'm so glad you had fun in Vermont, and yay for movie deals ;-)

  2. And some of the people I talk to are stranger than others!

    Where do you find all the pictures? Love your cousin's sculpture, btw.

  3. Hey there Rae and Sandra--thank you both for reading this, as it's such a mishmash this week.

    So, Sandra, did you make 23,000 hits on your blog yet? I am in awe... (and my pictures are all from Google images).

  4. So glad you had a great time, despite airline snafus. See you and Louise at B-con!

    Liz Lytle from Pa., Book Passages 05

  5. oops...

    Liz from Pa. Book Passages 05

    My fav Riegert is still the one where he tries to get oil drilling rights on some northern Scots village full of eccentric, yet wonderful characters -- Local Hero?

  6. Hi Liz!

    Local Hero indeed, which I confess I have not ever seen (because I am culturally deficient). It is the all-time favorite movie of a lot of friends of mine, so I need to rent it sometime when I have enough cash for a video rental.

    Check out KING OF THE CORNER, if you get the chance. He co-wrote and directed and acted in that, and it's really outstanding. GREAT cast.

  7. Reading your post is, well, it's like having you right here in my office, gesturing with wild abandon and telling me in rapid-fire-non-stop without-taking-a- breath-fashion all about your adventures and mis-adventures and sidetrips and family lore and near-death experiences and it's absolutely perfect storytelling...

  8. Oh, Janine, you are most kind. And I wish I were hanging out in your office. Better yet, that we were both hanging at the Alexis drinking a little of the ol' Veuve C with some Dilettante chocolates...

  9. Welcome back, C!

    I just returned from my Maine sailing adventure on Monday. Sitting in the window seat next to me was this hip young guy with a shaved head and a nose ring. He was oh-so polite and apologetic about asking me to let him out to use the head, but we didn't speak again until we landed at LAX. I think there's a whole division of psychology that deals with talking to people on airplanes. A future post perhaps.

  10. Jet Blue rocks. I love how they keep the snacks in the back, so you can go and get yourself more blue potato chips whenever you want, to eat while you geek out with the National Geographic channel. Or, of course, VH1 Classic.

  11. My last Jetblue flight I think I ended up watching Brady Bunch reruns along with an episode of MacMillan and Wife or something. IT's all a blur.

    Welcome home Patty! My mom was just out sailing on the east coast a week or so ago with her college roommate. Had she told me beforehand, I would've told her to run up some signal flags for you.

  12. Say it ain't so, C. What fun it would have been to toast your success with your mom. Pretty rum drinks anyone?

  13. LOCAL HERO, babe.


    I keep pimping the flick, and you keep going "yeah, yeah... I'll try to remember it..."

    (see also: "polite brush-off, the")

    Riegert gets to be something like romantic, plus there are three words that automatically elevate the movie further:


    Get thee to a Blockbustery.

    Meanwhile and anywhoo, I'd say more (on other topics, no less), but I'm not sure this is a secure line. Loose lips, etc etc etc. The hills have eyes, but the corn has ears.


  14. Dude Brett... SO EMAIL ME!!! Hope all is going superbly well for you. I haven't been by the Cantina since I've been back. Must check in with y'all, and wish Counsel a belated happy B-day...


  15. Movie deal? Hurrah!

    I've just finished "A Field of Darkness," and I adore it. I'm going to blog about it soon and then sales are going to multiple like bunnies. Or frogs.

    And we have to talk Strumwelpeter and Belgian Shoes because both were huge in my grandparents' house, and I kept having these eerie flashbacks while reading your amazing novel.

  16. Love these posts. I missed reading it last week, but you more than made up for it with this one.


  17. sorry i missed the book party, i live in chester and tend to forget when these events are happening even thought the Reeds send me nice emails about the events to remind me. in fact i came across this blog because i was looking up examples of Susie's work which i was reminded of in a conversation tonight with a friend, nice to see a mention of the Bear with the Orvis Rod, i used to read that to Read and Wright many moons ago when i baby sat for them. i guess i best pop up to misty valley and get your book...