Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I am in the process of joining a farmer's market group called Community Markets and yesterday they called the annual vendors meeting at a place called Glynwood a few miles west of Cold Spring. Glynwood Farm is located about a mile up a dirt road that runs off of Route 301. I had been expecting something like a conference facilty or a catering hall so when I got there I was quite shocked to find a fully functional working farm with sheep gilded by the morning sun idyllically grazing on the hillside, ancient fruit trees bowed under the weight of past abundance. Even in winter it was so picturesque and authentic that I suddenly felt myself transported from a world where the stock market was dropping faster than a clubbed steer and the sounds coming from the TV talking suits sounded like the cries of the damned in Dante's inferno, to some slower less frantic place.

In all honesty I had not been looking forward to this event. It had been indicated on the 'invitation' that attendance was 'mandatory' for new vendors. First of all the word mandatory always suggests to me a minimum prison sentence and in fact the program which seemed to focused more on the needs of fruit and vegetable growers than wineries seemed to promise that my confinement was going to be cruel and unusual in that I was guaranteed, like an arsonist at an insurance convention feel somewhat out of place.

I was again almost immediately surprised, as I pulled into the parking area there was an attractive young woman, evidently as confused as I was who had arrived somewhat late.
"I just drove from Pennsylvania,--took me about and hour and three quarters." She smiled somewhat abashedly as we both struggled to gain our bearings about where we were supposed to be.
"Well it's a beautiful morning for a drive." I supplied noncommittally.
"Yeah, and it's still better than making cheese all day."
I didn't have a response to this so I just returned her smile.

After the obligatory introductory speeches, the main speaker from Wegman's supermarkets stood up and began his lecture. I was surprised to find myself actually paying attention to what he was saying about how to price your cauliflower, unloading
unsold produce, grape pies, his charming story about tying a ribbon with a recipe card around usually unsaleable mammoth zucchinis and of course the gratuitous picture of his wife and child and finally the attributes of attractive displays. Like all up and coming young men associated with a profitable enterprise he conveyed the impression that his experiences and 'knowledge of the business' were somehow immediately cogent and prescient and worthy of attention. Still, in this context
his remarks seemed to convey an aura of authority and authenticity. The 19th century means of production meet the 21st century concepts of marketing so to speak.

Anyway, following a passable but pleasant lunch and another obligatory hour of heated conversation about the once again timely subject of Food Safety I discretely made for the exit infused with a sudden inexplicable urge to create attractive displays and to vertically position food. Somehow it reminded me of the program I had been watching last evening on the Discovery Channel about the 'Bird of Paradise' and the vivid plumage displays it puts on to attract a mate. What was I really doing here? Trying to sell wine? To attract a suitable female? Safe food? Safe sex? Was this my spring time mating ritual?

My response to this state of biological/mercantile confusion was after returning home to immediately run out to HomeGoods to try to purchase some device that would allow me to vertically position my wine at market. HomeGoods was fresh out of vertical positioners. They had none. (I would have been better off running to the doctor to ask for a prescription for Viagra.) I lept into the car and drove down to TJ Maxx in a panic where after several unsuccessful attempts to buy a broken down lucite floor display they were using for a motley assortment of picture frames I settled for three pair of socks.

Hey, life is just like that sometimes. Looking for love and acceptance sometimes you just end up with socks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Proctical Magic

Last Saturday I went to the Capitol Region Wine Festival hosted at the rather regal Proctor's Theater in Schenectady, New York. I have never been to Schenectady before nor have I harbored a desire to visit there, at least until the film 'Synecdoche' came out. So I attributed this sudden burning desire to visit a burned out corpse of electrical manufacturing to having heard an interview with Charlie Kaufman, writer and director of that remarkably convoluted film, on NPR. There was something in his tone that told me that Schenectady might somehow be more than just the first island in the archipelago-connect-the-dots arrow-straight-trip along the Thruway toward Buffalo. (To give the devil his due, it was also coincidentally on NPR that I had heard about the wine festival.)

The name, 'Proctor's', does not inspire an especially warm feeling in me. It evokes either a hyperarticulate High School guidance counselor warning us sternly to 'put your pencils down' after the math section of the SAT or another kind of unpleasant exam where someone is shoving something like a #2 pencil up into what I like to call 'the English section' of my large intestine (yes, they give the SAT there too) and from whence issues all #2 .

So, despite the fact that the multiplying coincidences somehow suggesting all this was (much like a colonoscopy after age 50) somewhat inevitable, still, I was approaching this event with some strange combination of awe-inspired passivity (inspired by the aforementioned raison d’etre in this case) and terror, extracting this from what Carl Jung called 'Synchronicity', a series of inexplicable coincidences that inspire an unwarranted confidence in the operations of fate, a kind of ice cream sundae enema of karma, slathered with the whipped cream of trepidation, topped with a hemorrhoidal cherry marinated in my own 'free associative' reaction to the unpleasant name of the theater.

Accompanied by my lovely daughter, Julia, I arrived at the theater about 10.00 AMSaturday, aware that I was already late and also nagged by a feeling that I had somehow forgotten something. I parked in front and was directed by a smiling old woman to a handcart trolley to be used for bringing in the cases of wine from the car. As I exited the front of the theater pushing the noisy cart, gratified by this bit of considerate planning on the part of the hosts, I pushed open the front door of the theater with the cart and promptly snapped off the bright brass, expensive looking kick-down doorstop that was affixed to the strike plate on the door,  on which I had pinned all my now clearly vain hopes of doing no immediate damage to the premises. Ignoring the look of horror on the face of the woman, I sheepishly finished unloading my wine,-- asking Julia to take the car and park it in the back lot and meedly went in to face my fate which I expected involved a conversation with an insurance adjuster.

Proctor's, you should understand is not just a theater, it is a magnificently restored venue, a former vaudeville house with a full proscenium stage flanked by gilt embossed elegantly worked wood and plaster moldings. The plushly carpeted arcade houses a book store, a music store (a real music store with actual music), a coat check, various well appointed cul de sac lounges, it was added in 1979 to the National Register of historic buildings and was recently restored to its former glory at a cost of 2.5 million dollars. I took the evidence of my own inflamed guilt embossing and wedging it somehow between the floor boards of the hand trolley, not sure exactly in what manner to inform the officials of the event of my heinously anti-architectural act. I rolled up to the table set up for the vendors with my four cases of wine, denoted in black magic marker as 'Proc 1 thru 4', retrieving the bright shiny, now useless, doorstop from between the trolley boards, holding it up for all to see like a self-accusatory supernumerary digit or the severed head of a vicious enemy.
“Doorstop.” I managed to squeak out. Kaufman's dreamlike Synecdoche was already running a loop in my head, like 'Krapp's Last Tape',-- visions of an eight track nightmare of melted videotape, holding what to me represented the entire days profit and clear evidence of my crime, in my other hand.
“Oh Silver Stream, we've been waiting for you!” a smiling middle-aged woman with a bouffant hairdo effused, ignoring my ignominious trophy.
“There's a lunch set up across the lobby for the vendors.”
I let out a little sigh of relief, either they had not connected me with the assault on the architecture or they had chosen to write the entire incident off as an indiscreet destructive entrance, either that or they must have assumed that I always traveled with a snapped off, $150, bright brass doorstop in my hand. At that point I was just glad to proceed to the vendors area without hearing the words, ‘Ja, Cuse!!’ hurled at me like a corinthian acanthus.

As it turned out, (much like the dream sequence known to every college student of waking up late for an exam for which you have totally forgotten to study)  what I had forgot to bring with me was the wine!. Well, not entirely, but I had forgotten that I had offered to donate three bottles of my Pear Dessert Wine to the silent auction which now left me with only five bottles for four hours of voracious wine tasters. 'Give tiny tastes' my daughter admonisshed me. The hopes of this strategy working evaporated rather quickly. A thousand people had bought tickets at the door,-- there were booths serving cooked to order pasta, bruschetta, calamari, imported cheeses, the vendors lounge for Chrissakes was serving hand carved rare roast beef sandwiches and sushi, Opici, Charles Krug, Mondavi they all had booths there supplied with tons of sleek, handsome bottles of wine, --clearly, they were not about to run out, and here I was with my five bottles of dessert wine and a broken off doorstop wedged back guiltily in the slats of the hand cart, it was the SAT and I had a rubber pencil!, it was Charles Kaufman droning on about his dream states to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air! It was a proctological exam and I had forgotten to shower! In short it was a quickly becoming exactly the choreographed nightmare I had imagined! Then I looked up,----

Floating serenely high above the crowds, there it was, - a polka dot octopus with heart-embossed-satin sleeves and a chiffon sash. It was the Proctopus! Well really it was a ball gown with eight legs protruding complete with black outlined suckers, (if that makes any more sense).  Anyway somehow it assured me, everything was going to be alright, you'll get through it somehow. Don't worry sucker!

By 3:00 PM. I am out of wine. Not just dessert wine but all the wine. I am slumped disconsolately at the table while my daughter looks about nervously, hoping no customers will approach us.
"Hi. My name is Dennis."
"I'm sorry Dennis but I'm out of everything. Even business cards." I write my website address on a matchbook cover and hand it to him.
"Come on Ken! How can you do that!" (He obviously saw my nametag because I had never met him before.)
"I'm a bass player." I have no idea why I say this, I am reaching, reaching for anything, eight arms grasping desperately trying to hold on to... something--anything.
"Hey I'm a bass player too!"
A young nice looking woman with dark hair standing at the table adjacent to him smiles at me.
"Hey,-I'm a bass player too!"
"Wow! What a coincidence."
Well, all wasn't exactly forgiven and didn't exactly expect it to be, but there had emerged this unexpected quirky kind of camaraderie that momentarily trumped all the gaffes, all the mistakes and miscalculations. It was a brotherhood and sisterhood based solely on pure coincidence under the umbrella of a hovering ten-foot flying polka dot octopus.
"I'm definitely moving here." I say to the greyish-blondish-haired woman in the purple shirt sitting at the table when I exit the exhibition area.
"You're moving here?!" she asks incredulously.

As we drive away, I see the big circular GE sign rising majestically over Erie street, now un-illuminated and abandoned the hulking evacuated lightbulb factory squats below. Still, somehow it was beaming,-- all of a sudden, smiling, smiling right at me like an electric warming sun as it evinced the timeless, double entendre message, 'We bring good things to light'. I wave goodbye to Schenectady with my expensive new brass doorstop. 'Hah', I say, not meaning it.