Friday, October 31, 2014

Finding Our Center




By Felix Carroll

The geographic center of Berkshire County is not located somewhere fun, like the cloakroom at the Masonic Lodge, or the high-voltage lab at General Electric, or the pharmaceutical aisle in Price Chopper, or even James Taylor’s hot tub.

Still, it’s the very center of Berkshire County, and my search party and I landed upon it and planted a flag there. Here’s our story:
It took two afternoons, several tense standoffs with my occasionally mutinous cohorts, and the sorrowful surrender to the blood-collecting demands of a creatively limited assemblage of deer flies, but at 1:37 p.m. on June 22, history was made, as far as I know.

How were we certain we stood upon the geographic center of this noble county? By scientific method and a wild goose chase. Luckily, Berkshire County is shaped more or less like a rectangle—unlike, say, Essex County, which is shaped like a mini-India (that is to say, like a bug splat on a windshield), or Barnstable County, which is shaped like a thin arm flexed with pride before big biceps mattered.

Here in Berkshire County, you can draw a straight line between the distant extremities of Williamstown and Sandisfield and another straight line between Florida and Mount Washington. Those two lines intersect somewhere within cannon range of Greenridge Park in Dalton. Bingo! Before getting too excited, however, we saved ourselves time and potential starvation by recalling the fatal mistake made in 1846 by the Donner Party: They took a “shortcut” across the Rocky Mountains without Googling it first.

We Googled, and Google ushered us to the U.S. Census Bureau website, which lists the geographic center of Berkshire County at latitude 42.396128 and longitude 73.209889—not in Dalton at all.

Indeed, according to a free app I downloaded that evidently still has a few kinks to work out, the geographic center of Berkshire County is in West Sand Lake, New York. (That’s not a joke.) Naturally, my exploration team and I were a little skeptical, so I banged the smart phone on the kitchen table, but the free app stood by its findings.

“Just go straight to Google Maps, ya moron,” said a fellow explorer who holds the title of wife in a marital contract that includes my name. So I did what she told me to do, to my credit, and before you could say Marco Polo, Google Maps placed latitude 42.396128 and longitude 73.209889 in the town of Washington, by the northern edge of October Mountain State Forest. And we have a new Bingo!

Armed with a new mapping app that cost money, we made haste. But two things went horribly wrong. First: We didn’t bring snacks for the youngest member of the search party, my porter. Two: When we trekked a couple miles to the point indicated by Google Maps, our app begged to differ. We had overshot the mark by about a mile.

Distraught, demoralized, and getting on each other’s nerves, we turned back, drove home, and tried to pretend none of the above ever happened. That evening, I again typed the coordinates into Google Maps, and it turned out Google Maps had a sudden change of heart—this time placing the coordinates a mile farther to the southwest. You may be thinking, “That’s not possible. Google Maps doesn’t reconsider anything.” But it does, because it did, and the whole thing is weird, and I wonder if Edward Snowden knows anything about any of this.

The following day, we set off again, with snacks this time and a new attitude.

So here’s how to get to the geographical center of Berkshire County. Take New Lenox Road up into October Mountain State Forest, and park where the pavement ends. Hike the unmaintained road east about three-quarters of a mile. You’ll see a ramshackle dam to the left that impounds the old Millbrook Reservoir. Don’t abandon the trail and plunge north into the thick woods for about a half-hour as we did because that would be stupid. Instead, continue on the trail. About 100 feet past the reservoir, take a left into the woods for about 30 feet till you come to a tangle of prone pine trees piled like Pick Up Sticks. As your GPS of choice will probably indicate, you will not be in West Sand Lake, New York. You will be at latitude 42.396128 and longitude 73.209889—a standard-issue patch of mucky Berkshire woodlands.

Disappointingly, what you won’t find at the geographical center of Berkshire County is any sort of welcoming party handing out certificates of completion. No oracle on a tree branch granting you three wishes. No strange cosmic vibe or tear in the space-time continuum. Not even a place you’d want to picnic.

What you may find is the American flag we planted there, in Washington, festooned to a ski pole beside a Jack-in-the-pulpit. Do me a favor: I need my ski pole back.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The font of wisdom

By Felix Carroll

HI DAD.

CONSIDER THIS AN INTERVENTION.

THIS IS REGARDING YOUR EMAILS AND HOW EVERY WORD YOU TYPE IS IN CAPITAL LETTERS. IT’S AS IF YOU'RE STILL SHOUTING AT YOUR CHILDREN AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: “HEY, YOU KIDS KEEP IT DOWN UP THERE!!!!” 


DAD, I KNOW YOU'RE STILL GETTING USED TO EMAIL AND ALL, SO I'M ONLY HERE TO HELP. USING “ALL CAPS” GIVES THE WRONG IMPRESSION. IT SUGGESTS MAJOR NEWS, LIKE A CATEGORY-5 HURRICANE, A SHORT, JARRINGLY PRECISE TELEGRAM FROM PEARL HARBOR, OR THAT YOU’RE CROUCHED DOWN IN THE LOBBY OF THE LOCAL BANK IN A STAND-OFF WITH THE BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, FIREARMS AND EXPLOSIVES WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY LOSING YOUR HEARING. ...

OUR FIRST INSTINCT WHEN WE OPEN YOUR EMAILS, DAD, IS TO REPEL DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THEM JUST TO MAKE SURE THERE’S A “LOVE, DAD” AT THE END AND THAT YOU HAVEN'T HURT YOURSELF.

MAYBE YOU COULD TREAT YOURSELF TO A FRESH, WELL-VENTILATED FONT LIKE “TEMPUS SANS ITC” EMPLOYED IN THE SENTENCE CASE. NO?

JIM SWEARS THE "ALL CAPS" IS MERELY A MATTER OF YOU HAVING ACCIDENTLY ENGAGED THE CAPS LOCK, AND THAT YOU HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO DISENGAGE IT, AND THAT YOU’RE NOW PRETENDING NOTHING IS THE MATTER.

THAT’S POSSIBLE.

WE EVEN CAME CLOSE TO MAILING YOU A PRY BAR WITH INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO EXTRICATE YOUR KEYBOARD FROM AN ALL-UPPERCASE PILE-UP, BUT THEN RECONSIDERED SINCE OUR INTENTIONS COULD BE MISCONSTRUED AS OVERLY SARCASTIC, AND WE ALL KNOW THE WORLD HAS ENOUGH OF THAT, RIGHT?

ANYWAY, LOVE YA!!!!

Felix

* * *

Hi Dad. 

I see what you’re up to now.

You just cannot leave well enough alone, can you? When I suggested you use the Tempus Sans ITC font in your emails, I thought it was implied you’d be using a black font. What is that — Aqua?! Are you kidding me?! Was this your watercolor instructor’s idea?

Every time I open an email from you now I feel as if I'm on the verge of being invited to your wedding shower, or that I'll encounter something like, “Hi kids! You wouldn’t believe where I am! I’m on roller blades in South Beach and I’m very confused, and the weather is great!"

Black font, Dad. Stick with the black.

Love ya,

Felix

* * * 

Hi Dad,

Okay, here’s the thing:

I was only trying to be diplomatic when I suggested the Tempus Sans ITC font. I thought, “Hey, maybe meet the guy half way. He likes ALL UPPERCASE so let's arrange it so his emails still draw attention to themselves in a way that make us recoil but that don't keep us constantly on guard that someday we'll encounter an email like: “HI KIDS, I’VE LOST THE ABILITY TO UNCLENCH MY JAW, AND IF I COULD LIVE MY LIFE ALL OVER AGAIN, THERE ARE ABOUT 400,000 THINGS I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY."

Now you've gone Tempus Sans ITC, black, sort of (more like "Gray-50%"; I won't quibble), but I spy boldface, do I not? Did I say use boldface? I didn't.

I don't feel like we're making any progress. Do you? I need to think about all this. Hold tight. I'll get back to you.

Felix

* * *

Dear Dad,

Jeez, here I am giving this matter careful consideration, and what are you doing? Sending out emails in Tempus Sans ITC, aqua-something, bold, and all caps. What the — ?! Enough! It's time for a radical email font makeover. Try to keep up.

You’re 72-years old now, right? Thinking about retirement? If anything, Dad, your emails should be in all lowercase — every single friggin' letter. You deserve it. And consider using an old, reliable, no-frills, plain-Jane font like Ariel — bold or not, I don't even care. And you could even make judicious use of italics for emphasis and no one would complain.

If you're feeling funny about it, you and I could practice emailing each other, just the two of us. Go back and forth. No one would need to know. Discuss the good times, you riding the tricycle around our kiddy pool and tipping over and falling in … you tipping over in the canoe, you tipping over in the kayak. What I assume you may discover is that with Ariel, all lowercase, your font would conform to the intentions of your content. It would reveal a man who has retraced his steps in the uppercase and reemerged on the tippy-toes of the lowercase, now on the move, no time to waste, just a quick email and then you've got to fly …

“hi kids, i’ve just eaten a delicious grapefruit, and now i’m going to take a leisurely walk at Peggotty Beach and think of the wonderful light cast upon the rocks and whether i should eat crab cakes for lunch. i wish you were here. I really wish you were here. love, dad”

Ariel, lower-case — go for it, you big, uppercase lug!

I wish I were there.

YOUR FAVORITE,

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My week off with me



By Felix Carroll

Man, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do, don’t we? I haven’t seen my former self in like, what, 13 years? Or is it 14? Really, that long? Holy cow, time flies. Does my former self still eat a lot of Burger King and smoke cigarettes and sleep on a futon in an apartment above a deli that always smells like bacon? I wonder if he still refuses to get a credit card. Is he still snooty about not owning a television?

And does he still have a full head of hair? What about that flat-bottom fishing boat he had chained to a maple tree on the banks of a reservoir? I wonder if he still says, “World, talk to the hand. I’m gonna go get me a large-mouth bass and a good buzz.”

Has his eczema finally cleared up? Does he still quit jobs every 10 months and split town out of antsyness that he’s missing something somewhere else— somewhere far away where people have figured everything out about life and how to live it. People who never yawn?

I’m nervous. My wife and son are in San Diego for a whole week to visit my brother-in-law and his wife. I’m all alone with myself for the first time since I met my wife 14 years ago. A whole week! Just me. I know my former self will pay a visit. It only stands to reason. My former self, the guy who lived alone and did whatever the heck he wanted to do whenever the heck he wanted to do it.

My former self disappeared once I met my wife. You know, three’s a crowd, that sort of thing. He had to go. It was either he or she, and there was no way I was going to let her go. She’s a redhead for goodness sakes. She would be the Lauren Bacall to my Humphrey Bogart. It was time to clean myself up a bit.

That old me — the me who had sworn off career, children and owning anything that took two people to carry — he and I need to catch up. The last I saw him he was sulking. He wouldn’t even turn around to say goodbye. He was cleaning the Whopper wrappers from his pick-up truck and threatening to move to Ireland. He was still a romantic who would allow Chuck Berry and Benny Goodman and Jack Kerouac to poison him with ideas about wide-eyed America and living free-range and feral. My old self even moved with a girl to Chuck Berry’s hometown of St. Louis — one of many strange and tragic decisions — in an effort to self-mythologize. I recall my former self dreamed he’d jump into the Mississippi River to swim out to Huckleberry Finn’s raft and join him on his journey through the central nervous system of America.

He didn’t find Huckleberry Finn or the taproot to glorious American myth in St. Louis. He did find a riverboat moored by the Gateway Arch, and on that riverboat was a Burger King. I’m not kidding. Go figure that one out. And my former self ate one of those combo meals and got sick to his stomach and soon had to duck in a panic into a hotel bathroom on Market Street. I think Chuck Berry used to play gigs in that hotel. Man oh man. My former self is the only one I can talk to about things like that. We’ll be up all night laughing till we can’t breathe. I hope my wife doesn’t call from San Diego in the middle of that one. She’ll think I’ve lost my marbles, and of course I haven’t.

My former self will tell tales of bare light bulbs and blinking neon and broken down barns and playing drums in the greatest bands that no one liked and dragging chains in mud show circuses. He’ll recall his dismay at all those freshly minted strip malls surrounding every old town he’s visited — all those impenetrable moats guarding all those broken downtowns — shoe cities with no more soles. Would Jack Kerouac cry? Would he eat a Whopper? Is Wild Bill Hickok turning in his grave, his trigger finger twitching?

I hope my former self doesn’t still drink Budweiser. I refuse to buy Budweiser for him.

My former self will look around the place and see the Legos and the dish towels, and he’ll mock me. I’m prepared. In the evening when night has settled in and the dog is having a nightmare. When I’m wondering what people are doing in Tulsa right now, or Truckee, or Buckeye, or Calexico, or Baker City, he’ll try to needle me.

Fatherhood?

“Yes,” I’ll say, “and it’s true what fathers everywhere say: Having a child is the greatest thing in the world and makes us better people and happy to be wherever we are, mostly. Laugh all you want: Ha, ha, ha — ya dick.”

Marriage?

“She’s a redhead, you dope. We talked about this years ago. Just look at her. Just talk to her. Somehow she saw in you something I could never imagine. And besides it takes courage to love, ya fuck face. Go have diarrhea in Denver or Durham or Delrey Beach.”

Mortgage?

“I cannot defend myself on that one. I wanted to live in a yurt. ”

He’ll call me a sell-out. I’ll let him. He cannot hurt my feelings. That’d be impossible. 

Yeah, I may have a cigarette and coffee with him at 6 a.m. I owe him that. But I’ll have the bathroom fans running. And he has to skedaddle by the 20th. I have to pick my family up at the airport. 

I’ll look forward to seeing their photos from Legoland. 

I really will.

I hope they miss me in direct proportion to me not missing my former self.