Archive for the ‘Small town’ category

Small-town bars

March 5, 2011


When I was living in a country town in upstate New York, there were many of those bars where everyone knows your name. You walk into the establishment, and nearly everyone looks straight up and says “Hey Christine!” (or whatever your name may be).

You walk around, saying “hi” to everyone; hoping you’ll avoid that one guy who gives you a hard time each time you come in (you know, he tries to hug you when you don’t want a hug or asks why you don’t want to go hunting with him). You buy a drink for an incredibly cheap price (or someone buys it for you), and then shoot the breeze with the regulars.

In my upstate New York town, there were a couple of these establishments I’d frequent more than others. I remember going to the first one; being marked by the frequency with which country music was played. Single men in their 40s and 50s would be listening to a sad country tune about an unrequited love while practically crying into their Bud or Michelob lights.

I made the mistake of playing a techno song on the jukebox one evening. “What the H#@& is this?!?!?” several Carhartt-clad men shouted in unison. I looked up, realizing the error of my ways. This was NOT the place to get my techno music fix. We let the song play, however, as several regulars lined up to play their next sappy country ballad.

One night at this bar I had some especially great conversations. I don’t remember what was said exactly, but I do remember one boat salesman saying he had to play me a couple of his favorite songs. This first one will always remind me of my time in this insular yet charmingly simple country town.

I remember that whenever the chorus played, this guy would close his eyes, groove his head to the beat, and belt out the words. He’d passionately utter:

I wake up and tear drops
They fall down like rain
I put on that old song we danced to and then
I head off to my job
Guess not much has changed

Punch the clock
Head for home
Check the phone, just in case
Go to bed
Dream of you
That’s what I’m doing these days

The other song was a little gentler/more meaningful in my opinion. I’m unable to post the YouTube video to this page, so I’ll just link to it. I remember thinking it was nice that this rustic outdoorsman enjoyed such a sweet song (it’s about a love between a father and son).

At the other bar, you’d run into all sort of important people in town: police officers, lawyers, town board members, etc. Initially they knew you (well me and some of my friends at least) as the journalists who interviewed them from time to time. But then, after seeing them there a few times, you were more like a friend. Eventually you barely talked about what you did for a career. Instead, you’d join them in cheering for the Green Bay Packers, playing some darts, or discussing the upcoming dairy parade.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/dougtone/3841713630

He seemed so happy

November 19, 2010

This post is way overdue. It’s about an incident that took place a few years ago. A guy I wrote a couple of news articles about shot himself inside his trolley car home. Here’s a link to the article I wrote about his historic trolley car in November 2006.

In August 2007 I wrote an article about his upcoming Habitat for Humanity trip to Romania. For that interview, he had me over to his trolley car for lunch. We sat at his outdoor picnic table, in a wooded area beside a bubbling creek. It was quite a picturesque scene, and one reason neighbors had complained about pest control trucks driving back and forth in this neighborhood (I wrote about this topic, too; the article is at the bottom of the page).

For the Romania interview, Mr. Trolley made delicious chicken salad sandwiches, and served them with strawberry wine. He also had me taste some special cheese he had ordered from the West Coast, where he used to live. As a reporter I wasn’t supposed to accept gifts or meals, but this was one of the few times I did. I felt it would be rude to turn down his nice gesture. In addition to telling me about his planned trip to Romania, he told me about a recent spinal cord injury that was really impacting his daily life. He seemed very distraught about this, but I thought he’d be OK.

A  few months later I heard he had shot himself inside his trolley. He was dead. I had never personally known anyone who committed suicide. This was a shock. I didn’t know what to think. I figured his injury may have played a role in his despair. I also knew he had been through a tough divorce and his daughter was siding with her mother (according to him). He had been involved with contracting work but maybe that work had dried up. Maybe he was at the edge and some incident occurred to push him over. Or maybe he had been planning this. I’m not sure.

I remember when I went to his trolley to interview him for the trolley story. He was so jolly and proud to show off his special abode. He had it all lit up in a beautiful way. He had put so much care into restoring it, into making sure the home was well insulated, repainted, etc.

I remember he loved the story. He called me up right after he read it and said it was perfect. I remember I got a lot of positive feedback from others as well. They like the historical aspect. Anyway, I’m saddened to think that such a good person was prompted to end his life. Maybe he was in such pain, though, that he’s in a better place now. Either way, it makes me realize that life is so fragile and anything we can do to to make others happy is energy well spent. You never know when someone is right at the edge.

A couple of good movies

November 3, 2010

I’ve seen both of these within the last month. One is “Departures,”  a Japanese film. Here’s the DVD cover:

The other is “Get Low,” an independent movie starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek. Here’s the DVD cover:

It’s funny both pictures have a cerulean blue background. Anyway, I saw the Japanese movie at my friend Ina’s house. She had a bunch of girls over to watch an Academy Award-nominated film in the Foreign Language category. We plan to get together again and watch another movie that falls into this category.

Overall, we enjoyed this film. It’s basically about a man who loses his job as a cellist, and must find a new one. He comes across a job listing in the paper, but it doesn’t exactly state what the job is. He goes to an interview, and finds out he’d be cleaning dead bodies and conducting rituals to lead their spirits into the afterlife.

That doesn’t necessarily sound THAT bad, but you come to discover the job has some pretty negative aspects. Like, he gets calls in the middle of the night to retrieve dead bodies from wherever the person died. One lady had been dead for a week or so when she was discovered, so the body was all gross and decomposing when he arrived.

Another difficult aspect of the job is that society looks down on you. I think it’s because Japanese families used to take care of cleaning the body and doing the ceremonies. I think they view the man’s job as something a “stranger” shouldn’t be doing. The man’s wife certainly didn’t approve of what he was doing until she saw him perform some of the rituals. She was moved by their beauty, and her husband’s care at performing them.

The rituals also made a really positive impact on the families of the deceased. Anyway, here are some reasons I like the movie:

  • The beautiful string music
  • The glimpse into Japanese culture (for instance, I learned about their public baths)
  • The way the man’s job gives him a greater appreciation for life
  • The unusual plot
  • The subtle humor

I saw “Get Low” with my mom at an independent movie theater near Syracuse, NY. It’s the story of a hermit (played by Robert Duvall) who decides to throw his own funeral party. The catch is he wants to have the party while he’s still alive.  He finds a funeral home that is willing to help him out (they are mainly in it for the money).

At first, he tells everyone he wants to have the party so all the attendees can tell a story about him. The problem with that idea, however, is no one really knows him. He has lived in seclusion in the woods for over 40 years. Whenever anyone walks onto his property, he greets them with a gun and a threat. So the only stories people have are rumors or about brief unpleasant encounters.

So eventually he starts telling everyone (he and the funeral home are advertising heavily for the party) that he’s going to reveal a secret at the party. He’s going to tell everyone why he’s shunned society for so many years. This is a big draw for the townspeople, and results in a huge turnout at the party.

I’m not going to tell you what he ends up telling everyone, but it’s pretty amazing. I will say that it’s a bad thing he did during his youth.  To repent for his sin, he lived in solitude for all those years. When he felt he had paid his dues, he decided to confess his transgression to everyone. It’s quite a story of redemption.

Here are a few reasons I liked this movie:

  • The strong performances by Robert Duvall and Bill Murray (he heads the funeral home, and is quite funny)
  • The overarching question of why the man lived in seclusion for so long
  • The suggestions that he used to be happy and in love (and your desire to learn more about this)
  • Some of the cheesy but moving dialogue, like a quote about how leaving things alone (like nature) makes them beautiful…I’m really frustrated I can’t find this particular quote online.
  • The movie’s rural setting
  • The fact the movie is based on a true story

I really liked this movie, but not quite as much as “Departures”. I think part of the reason was because for a while you don’t understand why the man would organize a party to have people tell stories about him. You don’t realize there’s another reason for the party until later on, and are kind of confused in the meantime.

A visit to Norwich University

October 19, 2010

My boyfriend’s brother attends Norwich University, a military college in Northfield, Vermont. This past weekend we visited him. Here are some pics:

This is a picture of a competition between juniors and seniors over who could disassemble a cannon, bring its parts across a field, and reassemble it first. The winning team got to fire its cannon. It was pretty fun to watch. By the end everyone was quite tired from running back and forth. It also seemed like a challenge for them to put the parts back together. I mean, they pretty much knew what to do but at one point the juniors (who actually won) got held up by a misplaced part.

Here’s a picture of the juniors about to win:

We visited the Sullivan Museum and History Center on campus. They had an impressive collection of new and old war artifacts. Here’s a large highway sign depicting Saddam Hussein that was taken from Baghdad in 2000. The text beneath the image reads “Saddam Hussein, Great Leader, Great People.”

Other artifacts included a piece of Adolph Hitler’s desk, Benito Mussolini’s phone, and a swastika armband. I learned that M&Ms were invented in 1941 for American soldiers. They needed a shell-covered chocolate snack that wouldn’t melt in their pockets.

I also learned that Norwich’s founder, Alden Partridge, would travel around the region, speaking about the importance of higher education and a well trained military. He would charge men to see him speak, but women would get in for free. That’s pretty sweet, huh? I guess it’s the old version of women getting into bars and dance clubs for free. Maybe Partridge was trying to meet a wife this way.

Speaking of women and the military, we saw an awesome photo exhibit in the Sullivan Center depicting different aspects of World War II. One of the photos showed a YMCA dance (in the New York City area) that had been held for soldiers on temporary war leave. The caption stated that girl “volunteers” attended the event to guarantee the soldiers had a good time. Organizers made sure that there were two of them for every soldier. Not a bad deal for the soldiers, huh?

We also watched the Norwich vs. Husson University (in Bangor, Maine) football game. Norwich crushed Husson, 52-7. Here’s a picture of Norwich freshmen soldiers-in-training (they’re called rooks) doing leg lifts during the game:

It was pretty funny seeing the rooks do various exercises (including push-ups) whenever Norwich did something good.

Right next to the football field is a giant anchor dedicated to the Navy and Marines. I’m not sure if it was actually used on a ship.

Sometimes I miss living in a small town

February 9, 2010

At an antique car show in the small town.

Up until a couple of years ago I lived in a small “town” in upstate New York. Although I technically lived in a city, it had fewer than 19,000 people. It was immediately surrounded by miles of farmland.

I was often lonely there. I would go for a walk on a dreery weekend day, only to pass by crows, an occasional senior citizen on a power wheelchair, and a few townies taking a cigarette break outside a bar.

There weren’t many people my age there, and the ones I met weren’t always my type of people. They were authentic alright, but they didn’t have much to talk about. They had lived in this city their whole lives, taken very few trips outside of upstate New York, and would likely be spending the rest of their lives in the same place. (more…)