Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Went Back to Upstate NY....and My City Was Gone

Granted, I returned to Upstate NY over 23 years ago.

And a city may die next Tuesday.  Or not.

Actually, not a city but a village.  A village that has been around for over 100 years but has become too expensive for it to continue to exist.  Or so many of its residents say.

The village is Johnson City, and the process is something called dissolution.

This dissolution will be voted on next Tuesday, and if it passes, Johnson City will dissolve and become part of the Town of Union.  In NY, towns are "subdivisions", so to speak, of counties.  Johnson City is located in the Town of Union, in Broome County.  The Town of Union has one other village, Endicott.  And a bunch of incorporated areas:  Westover, Fairmount Park, Endwell, among others.

If Johnson City dissolves it will become one of those areas.  They will receive police protection from the NY State Police and other services from the town.  It's somewhat complicated, like everything in NY tends to be.

Towns and villages in NY are somewhat independent; for example the village of Deposit lies partially in Broome County and partially in Delaware County.  However, before I give all my readers headaches, I'll go back to the topic.  Oh yes, Johnson City dissolving.

Until around a year ago the dissolution process was so daunting that few villages tried it.  But all changed, the process is now much easier, and now we really have it on the ballot (not "we"; I don't live in Johnson City) instead of the "just talk" it's been for so many years.

And, meanwhile, Johnson City is electing a mayor in the same election.  So if it dissolves, these people are running for an office that won't exist - I assume.  Should be interesting.  Wonder what their role would be then.

Of course, there are signs posted everywhere-pro and con. Vote for dissolution!  Vote agains!  People care....a lot.

Spouse thinks the dissolution will fail, but we will see.

So then what?

I think the name will remain Johnson City.  That wasn't the original name, which was Lestershire, but why change back?

Many years ago Lestershire was renamed in honor of George F. Johnson.  His story is quite interesting;  I encourage you to read about him and Endicott-Johnson.  The legacy of George F. Johnson is enormous and affected all parts of this country.

There's a lot of stuff in this area named for the Johnson family.  My son went to Harry L. Johnson elementary, which no longer exists.  (it's a senior apartment building now.) Similarly, he went to 5th grade at C. Fred Johnson Middle School.  That school doesn't exist anymore either.  Hmm....

I don't know about this blog, but I do agree Johnson City saw the last of its glory days a long time ago.  So, if George F. came back to life, would he tell Johnson City to dissolve?  Or not? What Would George Do?

Since he's not coming back, the residents of Johnson City will decide on Tuesday.  Stay tuned.

Arctic Dusk at Noon

Today at noon, on the Svalbard/Longyearbyen, Norway webcam, I observed very thick and overcast clouds with a faint glow of red on the horizon.

People, of course, are out and about.

Meanwhile, on the Antarctica webcam, the penguins are out and about, as they enjoy spring.   Looks like fresh snow for them, and some fog.

I'm excited to finally see the true arctic dusk at noon.  I've been following Fairbanks, AK now for two years, but that city is below the Arctic Circle.

All locations have fresh snow on the ground.  As we will also.  But today it is rain for us.  Rain again.

The last of the mild weather for us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A story of the Art Studios Open House in Susquehanna County, PA

It took me a while to post this, but I wanted to share the story and art of one the artists I visited this year. 

The artist is Tom Richie  He's a wood carver....and someone alive due to a heart transplant.  He took up carving in the "bad days" before his new heart became available, and still keeps very busy now.  His house is an amazing collection of his art, and Tom graciously permitted me to take pictures of some of his carvings.  (the rooster isn't his, and as I recall, the paintings aren't his either.)  The artistic arrangement of the pieces was as wonderful as the carvings themselves.

This is the point at which I wish I had won the lottery, and could have bought many of these.



What I wasn't able to get was pictures of his bird feeder, alive with several different species of woodpeckers and various songbirds. 

What an amazing place to live.

After some wonderful conversation with Mr. Richie, we left, but I hope we will be back one day.

The Last Sunset and What we take for granted

I wasn't able to catch the last sunset in Svalbard, Norway but it's official:   Weather Underground shows daylength:  0 hrs 0 minutes.

Going to the webcam I frequent this morning, I find the residents are quite up and about on their snowmobiles in the arctic dusk, savoring their last few days of light.  It's about 12:20 pm there, I believe.  Overcast.

They don't take for granted that the sun rises every day.  Perhaps we further south shouldn't either.  For example, take fall.   In fall, green is stripped away and leaves show their "true colors". We go crazy admiring the leaves.   But what if the leaves were that color every day from May through October.   Then, would anyone care?  Or would we just ignore it as we do the rising and setting sun here in upstate NY?

There's an obvious lesson here about appreciating what is all around you.  Like health, friends, mobility and even our own self-awareness.

And that is about as philosophical as I like to get.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall Peak!

This weekend the heavy rains of Saturday morning finally stopped, to reveal fall in all of its glory.   But even before then, the bright colors shown through the fog gathered around the bottoms of the hills.

What I can't capture is the smell of fall.  Woodsmoke, fallen leaves, baking apples.  Nor, the sounds-of crunching leaves, of children playing in leaf piles, of leaf blowers.  Or the tastes - of fresh pressed apple cider, of baked winter squash with maple syrup, of local fall honey.

This year turned out to be the year of "bright".  Bright red, bright yellow, and even bright brown.  The rust-colored hills tried to call to me to crochet an afghan in their colors.  But I have other projects to complete.

And, ironically, when peak came, the colors were muted with heavy clouds.

After the weather turns for good (probably in the next week, right around Halloween) comes the slide into winter.  But first....

For your enjoyment, here are some pictures I took over the last week.  The first was taken on the hills overlooking Vestal, NY last weekend.

These next were taken yesterday, October 24, in various locations.  The colors are muted due to the thick clouds so they don't look like fall picture post cards, but they have their own type of beauty. 

These last three pictures were taken on the Vestal Rail trail.

Vermont may be more famous, but there is no place like home.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wife Beating is Not Funny

Am I a troll?  Or am I just old fashioned?

My son thinks...well, he probably thinks both.  But definitely the former.  But I am not posting this on an online forum, but instead my blog.  And I'm not doing it to "do it" but because something hit a raw nerve today.

An ad I saw today has me very upset.

I was on the Binghamton University campus today and picked up the student newspaper, Pipe Dream.  I got home and settled down.  I don't read Pipe Dream very much but I like it because it is a window on a culture I have not been part of for a very long time.  So, before I dig in, I want to reassure my audience:
1.  Yes, I was a college student once.
2.  I know part of the mindset of the college student is to tweak the adults, see what they can get away with, and this can sometimes lead to some very interesting (even hilarious) results
3.  But, there are also truths in adult life and some of them are not very funny.

Anyway, about the ad.

It was an ad for a local Binghamton bar that students frequent.  "Can't decide which shot you like?  Let [name of bar] decide for you." (with an "18 shot Shot Wheel.")  And then the list of drinks followed.  As you can expect, some of them were cute, some of them made references to illegal drugs, some to another favorite activity of some college students. A couple of descriptions used four letter words.  Some of the drinks sounded yummy.  Others, like the popular Jager Bomb-Jager Meister and Red thanks.  Generation gap.

Anyway, I know this ad is part of the winking, tweaking, pulling adult strings, college scene.  Nothing unusual here.

But then I got to the "Jack Daniels", the shot of Jack Daniels, and the description boasted "Ideal shot to do if you're planning on heading home to beat your wife."

Maybe this is supposed to be ironic, and I'm too old to see the humor.

But what I am old enough for is knowing people who have been victims of domestic violence and it is not funny.

For example, there was the woman I worked with once years ago, who had a husband so controlling that he had cut her off from family and friends.  They had three children.  They lived in a trailer out in the country.  He called her at work 10, 15 times a day.  She couldn't take a breath without his permission.

She had enough, and had the courage to kick him out and file for divorce.

One night he drove by and fired shots into the trailer.  She managed to escape into the woods with her three children, and hid out there all night with them.

And then went to work the next day.

And then proceeded to, very quickly, make arrangements to move out of state.  I never saw her again.

I am very disappointed by this ad.  If anyone decides to flame this post, well, as they say, it's a free country.  I do not believe in censorship, but the flip side is, I have the right to express myself also.   My son says I don't know the Internet.  But if you do, I hope you never find yourself in the same shoes as my former co-worker.  It's been over 20 years and I still wonder what happened to her.  Or her children. 

That's why sometimes it appears that 50-somethings have no sense of humor.

I wish I could find a good, clever, ending to this post, but I can't.  Only to say to the owners of this bar-who put on a very good lunch feed that my workmates sometimes take advantage of-you do know better.

Don't you?

The Ultimate Sunset Nears for Longyearbyen, Norway

Just imagine.

Monday October 26.  Two days away.  Longyearbyen, Norway, the "northernmost" town in the world.
Sunrise 11:27am
Sunset 11:54 am.

And that's all folks, for about 4 months.

True, it won't be totally 100% dark for a couple of more weeks but the sun will be gone, leaving only filtered, weak dusky light.

When the sun rises again (around March 8) it will be a town holiday. Everyone will come out to get a glimpse, school children will sing songs honoring the occasion.  What we take for granted, the daily sun, they don't get.  But on the other hand, in the summer, they get the midnight sun.

One day I will be there.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Another Baby Boomer Icon Passes -Soupy Sales

I've been coping with my back/sciatic nerve problems, but have bought a new chair for home use.  It got assembled yesterday, so I hope to be able to sit and post more often.  And, I'm even thinking of starting a second blog.

Right now I don't have much time so I will comment briefly on the death of another "baby boomer icon".  I have missed a number of these but as I've said, I don't want to turn this into a celebrity obituary blog.

Soupy Sales.

Died in the Bronx, too.  Something I doubt I will do.

The interesting thing about Soupy Sales is that he didn't do a lot of the things we remember him for.  Like the "what starts with an F and ends in..." (OK this is a family blog so I'm not writing the rest. But, if you are of a certain age, you know the joke.  And if you are my son's age, you are wondering what the fuss was about.) The answer, of course is "Firetruck".  But Soupy didn't say it, not according to Snopes.

Nor did he broadcast the joke about the creamed banana, or White Fang and the alphabet, or kissing a girl up in a tree.

But he did do the "little green pieces of paper" gag.  As in, asking kids to get those pieces of green paper from their parents' wallets and send them in.

Soupy, I am smiling just thinking of all those jokes you never made.

You made my day today.  Thank you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Apple Gourmet

Until you live in apple growing country, an apple is an apple.

Once you can enjoy the bounty of many varieties rarely found in supermarkets, you find out something completely different.  Each apple has its own characteristics.  Not just the typical division between eating, cooking, all purpose but:

Does the flesh stay white when cut?  Or is the apple brown within minutes?

Is the skin tender?  Or tough?

Flesh mealy?  firm?  juicy?

What about the taste?  Sweet?  Tart?  Both?

Color:  green, red, reddish-black?

Size:  huge?  bite sized?

Storage qualities:  the later the apple the better. Some heirlooms, such as Arkansas Black, store well but the taste isn't the best.  One of the local orchards used to grow this one years ago.

The Apple Gourmet has favorites and seeks them out.  Mine are Honey Crisps, Empire (a tart-sweet, juicy eating apple) and Northern Spy.

Some of the favorites in this area are Honey Crisps (an earlier, wonderful eating apple whose season is over now), Cortland (all purpose), and Northern Spy (tops for apple pies).

Here, from a local apple grower, is their schedule.  Thanks to dwarf trees, apples can be picked easily, even by children.

This apple season has been an excellent one.  Foliage here is about at peak so I hope I can get to one orchard - we don't u pick any more (can't eat them fast enough) but it still is so much fun.

There are even more varieties grown here - you have to seek other varieties out but the trip is worth it.

"September 6 - Ginger Gold, Gala

September 13 - Ginger Gold, Gala, McIntosh, Cortland

September 20 - McIntosh, Cortland, Honey Crisp, Gala

September 27 - McIntosh, Cortland, Empire, Macoun, Jonagold

October 4 - Cortland, Empire, Gala, Macoun, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious

October 11 - Cortland, Empire, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Ida Red, Crispin, Northern Spy

October 18 - Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Ida Red, Crispin, Northern Spy"


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Penguins have returned to GARS O'Higgins in Antarctica

The first penguins returned October 2 to the island research station run by the Germans on land owned by Chile-also known as Bernardo O'Higgins Station  (Bernardo O'Higgins was what you could call the "George Washington" of Chile).  This station is located on one of the northernmost areas of Antarctica, spared some of the worst weather Antarctica has to offer.

Because it is uncomfortable for me to sit (and still is) I didn't visit the O'Higgins webcam until today, October 17.  What a thrill to see the penguins back again - and watching their life cycle through the Antarctic spring and summer will help me entertain myself this winter as the Midnight Sun shifts south.

This is the "blog" of the camera (the Germans no doubt build very talented cameras) -  you can use the Babelfish service to translate, if you don't speak German.  This is a link to the cam itself.

In 2008 the penguins arrived on September 17 which looks to be a "historic" early arrival.  In order to arrive, there must be open water in certain nearby waters.   That apparently happened with a storm on September 25.

So is "global warming" just a fluctuation in the natural cycle?  Or is this a "hiccup" in Global Warming? The arrival some 2 weeks later than last year, coupled with the early snow in parts of Pennyslvania a couple of days ago, gives us food for thought.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Yes-It's Snowing

When I got out of work yesterday we had rain with a mix of some light snow, temperatures in the high 30's.  Right now it is snowing here in the valley (not sticking).  Temperature at the airport is right at freezing meaning here it may be slightly warmer.

Our high is supposed to be 38 with a 80% chance of precip.


I will envy my snowbird acquaintances.  One is down in Florida now, another one in transit. Florida friend reported highs in the 90's yesterday.  Right now I would take it.  This is too soon!

Guess I'll have plenty of indoor time tomorrow to download photos of my trips last weekend and maybe post something.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Earliest snow ever? Not!

The forecasts for tonight and tomorrow are dire, at least for the higher elevations around Binghamton.  We may be joining Colorado and other parts in their early snow marathon-although (I hope) with less snow.

But was this our earliest snow ever?  No!  And in fact, the storm that won that honor (October 3-4, 1987) is one I still remember.  It was our second fall here in the Triple Cities, back when they knew how to make winters.  October 3 and 4 were a Saturday and Sunday.  We weren't getting much snow where we live in the Susquehanna River Valley, so we decided to take matters into our own hands. We took a drive into the nearby Catskill Mountains, all the way to Margaretville, seeing the wet snow accumulate - 20 inches by the time we got to Margaretville.  It was a bit foolhardy but we did make it back.

If you live in snow country, you know that snow before the leaves fall is a very bad thing.  This early snow tends to be wet and heavy, and down come-trees (sometimes onto cars), power lines, you name it. 

After a couple of years of late starting winters, looks like this one is shaping up to be a doozy.  We got our first frost Monday morning (October 12), which used to be a normal thing, but the last two years we didn't get frosts until November in our particular location.  So now....back to normal?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Living on an Unpaved Road in Downtown Ithaca

On the Ithaca Art trail, we visited an artist who lives in quite an unusual situation.  You expect the different from the artist.  I love visiting with artists because they help to set your mind free and look at the world in new ways.
But this was one of a kind.

Right off a major street in Ithaca which is lined with shopping centers, there is an unpaved road that makes a dramatic climb up a hill to a little enclave with four houses on it.  In back of the houses is NYSEG (local electric utility) owned land so it is undeveloped and like a bit of country right inside the city.  With our relatively new (non-4 wheel drive) car, I almost chickened out but spouse overruled me and up we went.  The road badly needed to be graded but we made it. (we used to live on an unpaved road in rural Arkansas, so are not strangers to the unpaved road.)

It was worth it.

Ellie Hall Minnis is a self taught painter specializing in flower portraits.  Greeting us warmly, she offered us coffee and homemade cookies.  It turns out that although she is a writer and poet, she only became a painter a couple of years ago.  New directions of creativity....

She is totally self-taught, learning through reading and practicing.  Some of her paintings literally glow, a technique she picked up in one of her books.

The house was one of a kind, with all kinds of nooks and crannies.  Many of the crannies were decorated with chickens.  I collect chicken figurines too (in a lot of moderation) so I felt instantly at home.

Ellie told me that the four homeowners paid for grading, and the UPS person and the garbage collectors did get up the hill (in the summer anyway).  All the residents had had four wheel drive vehicles.  She loved the convenience-less than a three minute drive away from major stores.  And, the privacy-who would want to go up that road unless they had a reason?

The only thing lacking was chickens running around the back yard.  I wonder if Ithaca's zoning allows the keeping of hens.  Then she could get into Ukranian egg painting, an art I tried once.  Actually, twice.  It's not easy!

It's wonderful to learn a new art in your late 50's.  There must be something about middle age and painting as I know at least two other women around my age who have gone down that painting path.  One is retired, one is not.  Neither make their living as artists.  One, I think, is pretty good.  When she visits New York City, she has been known to go to art museums and Broadway shows.

Maybe it is menopause that sets you free, free to be creative in ways you never expected to be.

In Ellie's case it was partially being widowed, and a resulting move from Southern California to Ithaca, that lead her to her present paths in life.  Her children are grown and scattered through the country, but in her studio was a painting with these children, lightly drawn in and ready for her paintbrush.

I loved visiting Ellie, and I wish her well in her painting.  And hope she is open again next year.  Maybe I'll see that finished painting and learn even more.

The McKenzie Method - Or My initial Adventures with Sciatica

So much to blog about, so little time...especially as we are probably going to get our first frost tonight.

I promised I would write about by initial adventures in physical therapy-and I will.

For now, the intial evaluation of my back condition with all that pain radiating down my right leg the past month (affecting my mobility and even ability to dress myself) reveals  a possibility of a herniated disc.  Of course that can't be fully diagnosed without an MRI and my insurance (thank heavens I do have insurance) won't pay for an MRI until I undergo physical therapy.

So into the torture chamber I go.  Of course, the laugh here is that my insurance only covers a certain number of sessions.  Almost like a miniature Catch-22.  I can't be diagnosed without physical therapy, but if the physical therapy makes me better then I will have to stop it, then maybe I will lose my progress, and my back will go out again....  So I hope they can teach me enough for me to go forward on my own.

When entering the physical therapist', office?  or gym?  many people were there, on all types of equipment.  It was almost like a gym for the injured, with personal tortu....I mean, teachers.

What this physical therapist is using with me is something called the McKenzie Method.  Sciatica is actually a symptom, not a condition.

To quote from the McKenzie website:

"With the McKenzie approach, physical therapy and exercise used to extend the spine can help "centralize" the patient’s pain by moving it away from the extremities (leg or arm) to the back. Back pain is usually better tolerated than leg pain or arm pain, and the theory of the approach is that centralizing the pain allows the source of the pain to be treated rather than the symptoms."
The McKenzie method is not meant as a "do it yourself" project, although a lot of information is available on their website.  "Do not try this at home on your own!" is what I would say to the reader.   I am not a medical professional giving any kind of advice, just a suffering person describing her journey back to health.

The fascinating part is the "centralization" theory. 

And, the physical therapist wants me to note a lot of things while doing these exercises: pain level, where exactly the pain is, how the location and type of pain is changing day to day, and so forth.  In other words, trying to make me self-aware.  Yikes, a lot to try to do.  But it is all worth it if I can move again.

It's helping me exercise my mind, for sure.

With these back problems I join a select group of people.  One of those clubs people never want to join, but here I am.

What a pain in the....

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why I can Never Go Home Again-Even if My Childhood Building is on Facebook

Bleeccch....the city housing project I grew up has a Facebook group.

I'm serious.

I am going to take a turn into grit and seriousness that may take some of my readers by surprise but those who have known me from my childhood know I am only speaking the truth.

Never mind Rod Serling spending his adulthood trying to go home to an idyllic childhood in a small city.  What happens when the childhood instead takes a non-Twilight Zone turn into an unexpected dimension?   The childhood is great but somewhere along the line urban change happens and one day you turn around. Bottom Line: You find yourself living in a slum, and it isn't a TV show.  And it happened so fast.  My family was one of the "left behind."

How this happened was interesting, and it was at least partially due to a housing development called Co-Op City. I will leave the studies, though, to the sociologists.  As for Co-Op City....its story is interesting too, and I have family ties to it.

So what became reality? I am talking here about early 1970's gangs such as the Black Spades, burnt out buildings along major streets, a motorcycle shop on White Plains Road where the Hells Angels hung out sitting on folding chairs on the sidewalk, elevators that reeked of pee, stairways covered in graffitti "tags".  Walking to the subway was an artform of dodging broken glass and the occasional garbage tossed out a window.  And, oh yes, the city Housing Police.  We, the forgotten of the city, weren't even entitled to 24 hour police protection.

I was last in my old neighborhood in 2004 and it still is a slum.

Maybe I would like to visit my old Junior High school but I can't.  It closed a couple of years ago-dangerous, underperforming.  My understanding is there are a couple of small schools operating in the building.  At least the elementary school is still operating, and it has a Facebook group, too.

I didn't go to my neighborhood high school but it was closed in 2008, same reason.  This also has several smaller schools operating in the building.

There were a lot of decent, hard working people living in my childhood apartment building, trying to make their way, trying to escape and make a better life for their children.  I hope they were able to accomplish their goals.

Sometimes, you really can't go home again.  Sometimes, growing up is not nostalgia.  Sometimes, it is escape.  Some of us never look back.

And that is why I am not going to join that Facebook group.

Do you know what impressed me the last time I was on White Plains Road?  The number of storefront churches.  I know why.  My hometown neighborhood needs all the prayers it can get.

May it rise from the ashes one day.  May I be able to walk its streets again.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Cheese Peepers"

Finger Lakes activities abound this weekend.  The Ithaca Art trail, the Friends of the Library Book Sale in Ithaca....but my mind will be on - food.  I wish I had made up the "Cheese Peepers" headline but I didn't.

I hope to be able to go on a cheese tour - the Finger Lakes Artisanal Cheese Open House of 8 farms that make cheese.  I blogged on one of them, Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery,earlier this year.  Another one, Lively Run Goat Dairy, is one I've wanted to visit for a long time.   We've enjoyed their feta cheese many times.   A third one, Northland Sheep Dairy, sells its cheese at the Ithaca Farmers Market and it is good cheese too.  Still another one, Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company, also sells at the Farmers Market but it is a good opportunity to visit their farm.

If we indeed visit any of these farms I will blog about it later this weekend.

Thanks to the Cheese Peepers article for letting me know about this tour.  For all of it being local, I had to find out about this from a Philadephia Inquirer article.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The ACA Shooting Six Month Anniversary

Yesterday, amidst all the Rod Serling events, the 6 month anniversary of the American Civic Association shooting came and went.

Six months.

Spring was just coming to the Southern Tier, fall now touches us.

Some of us feel a whole lot less safe.

The Broome County library, where Jiverly Wong spent a lot of his time, remains without (in my view) adequate security.

Although I did not know any of the victims personally, a friend knows the teacher who would have been teaching the class where the massacre took place  on that day, except it was a special wedding anniversary for her.  She asked Bobbie King to substitute for her, took the day off, and the rest was tragic history.

Bobbie King's widower, who is a local doctor, will be putting their house on the market soon.

What is it like to be a survivor of such an experience?  Can we even begin to put ourselves into those shoes

"Never forget the innocents".

What is it like to have a Facebook Common Interest Group called "Pray for (your home town)"? Well, Binghamton does. 

This is how we finally got on the national map.  Not for spiedies, not for Endicott Johnson shoes, not for Rod Serling or Richard Deacon or the late cartoonist Johnny Hart.  We will be known always as the small uptown city where a troubled immigrant took matters into his own hands, went to a local sporting goods store, bought guns, and shattered tens of lives forever.

The man who may have sold him the murder weapons got fired for going to the media.  What has happened to him?  Has he found another job?

Rod Serling, you would not have written such a script in your wildest dreams.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Writer Once Without Honor in His Hometown

 Rod Serling.  The Twilight Zone.  The writer and the show are so much a part of our culture that several catchphrases and its theme music immediately bring this show to mind even to my 19 year old son.  Yet it is 50 years (and one day) after its first episode aired on October 2, 1959.  It has never left television once in all of those 50 years.

Happily, the paraphrase above of a quote from Jesus in the New Testament Book of Mark  ("A prophet without honor in his hometown...") may have been true at one time, but no longer is.   Rod Serling, a very talented...and tormented... man, who wrote amazing TV scripts in the era of the Red Menace with messages so timeless they resonate today, has come home.  It is ironic, in a way, that one of his most famous scripts showed a man trying to revisit his childhood in vain.

Rod Serling has now been honored in his hometown.  The hometown of which Rod Serling once said this:

"Everybody has to have a hometown, Binghamton's mine. In the strangely brittle, terribly sensitive make-up of a human being, there is a need for a place to hang a hat or a kind of geographical womb to crawl back into, or maybe just a place that's familiar because that's where you grew up.
  "When I dig back through memory cells, I get one particularly distinctive feelingand that's one of warmth, comfort and well-being. For whatever else I may have had, or lost, or will findI've still got a hometown. This, nobody's gonna take away from me."

We think we know the man in black and white, smoking a cigarette, who intoned the following every week on the TV sets of the baby boomer generation and their parents:

"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition...."

But what of the child who grew up in Binghamton?  Thanks in part to a conversation I had today with a man from California who upkeeps the Rod Serling Foundation website, I was able to walk in those footsteps.  It was humbling in a way to speak to a man who thinks so highly of a man that he has traveled four times to Binghamton to be here.  The same Binghamton that I am in five days a week, and take for granted.

During my journey, I also met people from Seneca Falls, NY and Cherry Hill, NJ who also came out to share the experience.  To so many, Binghamton is a "burnt out industrial town" but one of these people closed her eyes in delight in Rod's childhood neighborhood and exclaimed her happiness in seeing it.

So here is my tribute to Rod Serling.  I'm not even going to say "submitted for your approval". 

First, here is the home where Rod Serling grew up.  I've passed it doing my exercise walks (disclosure:  I do not live in this neighborhood but I love walking in it) and never knew its history.  As the address and a photo of this home exist on a Rod Serling website, I feel comfortable in posting a picture but will not give the address-it is privately owned.

This is the junior high (now West Middle School) where Rod Serling first met Helen Foley, the English teacher who influenced the boy who became the writer.  I took two pictures to highlight some of the Art Deco architectural details both in the windows above the entrance doors.

The next stop was Recreation Park, just a few
blocks from where Serling grew up, home to a bandstand where Serling carved his initials as a boy.
I didn't take a picture of the bandstand, but I did of the building housing the historic carousel.

Binghamton is known as the "Carousel Capital" and myself and my son took many rides on the same carousel. The carousel, which normally doesn't run after Labor Day, was running today to celebrate.  (Sorry, the picture isn't very good.)  They were showing the episode inside the carousel building on a couple of TV's and, although it has been years, I immediately recognized it because I've had such emotional responses when I've seen it.

A live recreation of this episode will air on our local PBS station tonight.

It will be an emotional experience for us who know the true story.  Which I do now.  I was told that even, after Rod Serling was famous beyond imagination, he would come back to his childhood neighborhood on Binghamton's west side and walk those streets.  Trying to find....something.

For what it is worth, the "Walking Distance" episode was not filmed in Binghamton (nor were any other Twilight Zones, although Serling came back to Binghamton many times) and the carousel in the episode was not this carousel.  It was filmed in Hollywood, according to the Serling expert I spoke to.

This is Binghamton High School (then known as Binghamton Central High School before Binghamton lost so much of its population in the 80's and 90's)

 Next, is a Rod Serling portrait inside of Binghamton High School.

I skipped the Serling star in the Binghamton Walk of Fame downtown, as I pass it so many times that it is an ordinary object to me.  Perhaps that's why prophets are without honor in their hometowns.  We know the famous celebrity as an ordinary person.  One who carved his initials into a city bandstand as a child.

Or even...the thought I had as I passed the boys room in Binghamton High...oh, never mind.

Thank you to Broome County Transit whose special hybrid shuttle bus transported us to some of these sights.

So, what was the rest of the story?

This child of Binghamton grew up.  After Rod Serling graduated Binghamton Central in 1943 he served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II as a paratrooper.   The combat service (including, it is said, seeing his best friend die in front of him) created permanent trauma that haunted Serling for the rest of his too short life.  A driven individual and a heavy smoker, Rod Serling died at age 50 with an unbelievable legacy few of us could ever aspire to.

Some episodes haunted me for years after I saw them.  "It's a Good Life".  "The Midnight Sun".  "The Hitchhiker". "Nick of Time".

Others were morality plays that still resonate today although as a child I did not know their true meanings.   "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street"  "The Eye of the Beholder". "The Obsolete Man".

And, of course, "Walking Distance".

Rod Serling said, at the end of the "Walking Distance" episode of the protagonist Martin Sloane, the man who found out he could not go home:

Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men perhaps there'll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he'll look up from what he's doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too because he'll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind, that are a part of the Twilight Zone.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Connoisseurs of Fall Color

Now that I've been dragged kicking and screaming into fall, spouse and I are starting to do our annual review of fall color vs. previous years.

Yes, some people in the Northeast, who enjoy some of the best fall color in the world (we won't get into Vermont vs. Upstate NY-let's just leave it as "northeastern US") treat fall foliage as wine connoisseurs treat wine. 

Where I would slug down a glass of sweet wine (the only type I will drink-I have no wine sophistication whatsoever) some would sniff it, sip it, swish it around, and spit it out.  Then they would talk about the tones of (name as many as you want) cork, chocolate, raspberries, strawberries, tannin, etc.  Same wine, totally different experience.

So it is with fall foliage.

The average person knows what beautiful is when he or she sees it.  So, OK, there are lots of colors dotting the countryside.  Fine.  But the fall foliage his/her mind carries the experiences of many falls past.  Is color coming early, late, or right on time?  Is yellow predominant this year, where last year the red was king?  Are the colors dull due to insect damage or drought?  What is the color mix like?  (I'm talking here, of course, of "wild" trees, not specialty foliage trees.)

And, of course, each type of tree has its own color.  There's the red to orange of maple, the yellow of poplar, aspen and some oaks, the brown of other oaks.

The beauty of the northeast is that there is a color mix.  Colorado, for example, puts on a wonderful show of yellow which I was lucky enough to see back in the late 1970's.  Gorgeous.   But, it is yellow.   Only yellow.  On the other hand, northwest Arkansas, rich in oaks, has a foliage show of....mainly brown, mixed in with a little red of sassafras and yellow of hickory and black walnut.

Now upstate NY, we have it all.  Plus pumpkin farms and fall art festivals.

The really wonderful thing is that all the leaf peepers flock to Vermont, jam up the roads, and ignore the Southern Tier of NY State.  I say, let's keep it that way.  (Sorry, tourism folks).

So this year?  What do the connoisseurs say?

They would say color is probably "on time" (whatever that means, in this age of global warming).  The last two years have been late and the color suffered for it.
The yellows seem to be coming out very nice.

By the Columbus Day weekend, the traditional "last weekend" for everyone to get out and do non-winter activities one last time, it should be looking pretty good.

Of course, in my haze of pumpkins, apples and falling trees, I try to ignore what comes next.


I hate winter.