news from all over

So this happened outside Frank and Dianne's driveway last night. Dianne took the picture from the tractor, where she sat preparing to  flip the truck back over, with the counsel of the sheriff.
  She did it! Dude put a wheel back on and drove off.
  In other Ozark news, here's a video urging tourists to return after last year's floods.
  And in Block Island news, here's a brief video urging tourists to help preserve the island.
  And in Thomasville news, now I mop.



If they can't grow it, there's always the grocery store.
An Amish group has moved nearby, probably seeking the same thing most incomers are looking for: cheap land, privacy and little government interference. They sell produce and handcrafts at the just-opened farmer's market in Alton. We now have highway signs warning of buggies. Plenty has been written about the Amish and their approach to modern society, but their separateness is still striking to the beholder. How they hang onto these kids is beyond me.

Transportation parked under the trees at the farmers' market.
Wishing they had Internet?


cooling off

They call this place "The Slab." Often, the place where the road crosses the river is underwater, but this is summer, and the river is low.When people in the Ozarks want to have a good time, they go to the river and park themselves in it for the day. The water isn't cold, for those of us who come from the Northeast, but it's refreshingly cool. The kids build dams and catch crawdads, just as my brother and I did in Arkansas creeks years ago. Flashback.


the new goose

 This corner is getting there—note new tiny dishwasher, which arrived when regular UPS driver Roger returned. Still a lot of painting, and shelving, to do. Aaand—that's what the other side of the room looks like.
   There's a fair amount of Donna news (other than she wants me to write captions for her forthcoming book). She has a lecture coming up and there's a very fun doc on the making of "A Day in the Life of Australia" 30 some years ago which you can watch here for familiar faces.
  And here is a $3.5 million property on Cutt's Island in Maine, where my family used to summer. This was once Rayne's farm. When I lived there one summer helping on the dairy farm, Mrs. Raynes cooked our meals on a wood stove. And now this!


rebel yells

This guy saved my ass last year when I was putting my house back together after the flood. He replumbed, re-electrified, put in windows and doors and a new bathroom and a new kitchen. It was quick and dirty and cheap. I did not focus on his tattoos, except to wonder if he had administered them to himself in prison. And then I saw the swastika.
   Would he have saved my ass if he'd known I was married to a Jew?
   Was it a relic of a heavy metal past rather than a statement of belief?
   And how could I open a discussion about it?
   I thought of many opening lines.
   "Do you know how that symbol hurts my heart?"
   "Why do you have a swastika on your arm?" (and don't give me that bullshit about a mystical Indian symbol)
   "Are you a white supremacist?"
   "Have you ever met a Jew?"

    I could have fired him, risking insult to the neighbor who introduced us.
   And risking more, since dude had my key, and my house is open and often empty anyway. In the middle of a ghost town. Miles from the nearest actual town. He knows where I live.

   And PS, groundskeepers just had to remove a giant swastika  burned in the grass of an Omaha park where World War II vets who fought against the Nazis are honored.

   And now I have the kid with a decal that's a cross between the Gadsen flag ("Don't Tread on Me," lately adopted by the Tea Party and guns rights people) and the confederate battle flag of Virginia. It reads "American by Birth; Rebel by Choice." Without the semicolon.
   "Do you understand the history of those flags?"
   "Are you a racist?"
   "Have you ever even seen a black person except on TV?" (The Ozarks are very white.)
    "What do you think of treason?"

    These guys are not dumb, but they are ignorant—maybe didn't finish high school. Poor and clinging to the next payday to fix the truck. I don't show their faces, but they have nice smiles. They love their daughters. I am very prejudiced against them. As a group. As individuals, it's tough to hate. I daresay they feel the same about me.

I don't know what I can do about it.
It hurts my heart.


summer fare

It's happening. People can't give away cucumbers and squash. (Virginia said she had made as many pickles as she could tolerate.) The tomatoes are coming in. Here is a recipe for tomato toast (in case you are tired of avocado toast) that Douglas sent me from the NYT. I will spare you any recipes for karela, or bitter melon, since you won't like it unless you acquired a taste for it having a) lived in India or China b) cancer or c) diabetes. Yes, karela is said to have many health benefits, some of which have even been proven! Me, I just like it. I like to eat it, and I like the vine that two years ago climbed up to Toby's apartment. Trying to start some here, though late in the season. . .



I'm a fan of outbuildings—even outhouses—as long as they aren't that prefab kind in the parking lot of Home Depot (though actually, I've even eyed them from time to time). But this particular example, which should be recognizable to some of my friends here in the Ozarks, is a favorite. It has everything.



After his job at a generator factory, Brandon has been coming by to put screen doors on the Goose and do some other odd jobs. Brandon is 22, and he has a five-year-old daughter by a former girlfriend. His wife drove by with her five-year-old and their two-year-old, both girls, to say howdy. They all live near here in a trailer. Brandon lives with his mother. This is the Ozarks.


what's different?



What is different about the before picture and the after picture? A week of work. It has taken me that long. As most of you know, I typically start with my view from the kitchen table and work outwards. Well, I fed the hummingbirds first. And got water. And went to the farmer's market. And wrote an advertorial. But I got that tiny portion of my tiny room detailed to my satisfaction. And now it's filled with lumber and paint cans as we move around the room.
After. That's Randy and Virginia providing local color. (Did they plan these outfits to coordinate  with my new color scheme?) They were my Thomasville saviors when the flood hit town, salvaging as many of my things as possible before the gutting and powerwashing of the poor, cooked Goose.


ping flies home

When you have become used to living alone, as many of the women my age have (perforce), it can be hard to breathe in with another person's rhythms. Sleep schedules, meal schedules, bathroom schedules—all require adjustment, especially when you are sharing a room or the front seat of a moving vehicle.
   We all have our oddities, we just don't come face-to-face with them living solo. For instance, I am not security conscious. I don't need a gun or a dog to hold off intruders: the door is open. I leave the keys in the truck in Missouri and Block Island. I don't lock my doors anywhere, except sometimes at night, and generally leave my houses open even when I'm not home. Ping, however, didn't even like to be on one floor of the Goose if I was on the other. She locked doors always, including when she was inside the truck, and I was filling the gas tank. I did not tell her that Memphis has one of the highest murder rates in the country.

    "If I am live with you, my English will be better," said Ping. She is embarrassed by her English when speaking to anyone but me, but it's way ahead of my almost nonfunctional Chinese. Ping used to be more fluent in English, but she has been speaking nothing but Chinese in recent years—to her sons, to her babysitting charges, who typically have one Chinese parent, to her multitude of friends. Our interactions, therefore, were in fractured Chinglish and not particularly deep. "Okay, hao," was our most-used phrase.
    She took surreptitious pictures of fat people—she found U.S. obesity incredible. The only really American pursuit she is obsessed with is basketball—and she missed the final because of our trip. Though barbecue may have a place in her heart as well. And, of course, Elvis.

    How can you chart a life from one moment in time, say 50 years ago? As 20-year-olds, we had no idea what the future held. Obviously. I mean, Milli Vanilli was once at  the top of the charts. But the years have unfolded, and more shall be revealed.
   Misty eyes at the airport, and away she flew.

   We talked on the phone when she was home.  "We both live together very happy, right?" she said. "I am so enjoy this trip."
   She is already planning her next junket to China for a wedding. Then she would like to see Iceland. And maybe we will go to Taiwan together before too long. The house we lived in there has long since turned into an apartment tower, and the sewers are now underground.
  But Ping has vowed never to visit the American countryside again. She wouyld prefer to visit me in New York.



the career woman

 "A career woman has to look like a lady, act like a man and work like a dog." A little retro, but still pretty true. Holly, who owns/runs the local (as in 13 miles away) hardware store is a case in point. She knows as much about carpentry, plumbing, electricals, etc. as any—well, as much as the owner of the Block Island hardware store, who is also female.
   And, yes, those are bullets, for those who can't make it to Walmart.


two roads converge

 Joey and Peyton. Which of them, do you think, giddy with new love, spraypainted their names conjoined? Is the heart-in-a-tree-carver or graffiti artist typically the boy or the girl? Do people in cities even do this anymore? Are those roads converging or diverging? Well, good luck, kidz.
   This is a place locally known as the Y. It is about a mile uphill from the Goose, and I am not the only one who parks up there to get cell reception.
   However, as of today, I have a working land line: 417-764-3086
   If I'm not covered with paint, I will answer.


ping and the ghost of elvis

I saw the ghost of Elvis
Down on Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
And I watched him walk right through
Now Security did not see him
They just hovered around his tomb
But a pretty little thing
Waits for the King
Down in the Jungle Room
Ping would not look at the grave.
    "Don't you know?" she said. "It is not lucky."
    "But you have a whole annual holiday, sao mu, sweep the grave, where you go to the graveyard. Have a picnic, make offerings."
    "Yes but one time only. When you walk away, don't look back. And do not go home directly."
    "In case you are followed by ghosts?"
Ping did not leave a bouquet at the gravesite in the "Meditation Garden." She did not even glance at it, or the graves of mama and daddy and grandma. Will Lisa Marie and Priscilla join them?
   As a former People Magazine writer who has written about both the ex-wife and the child, I will not be surprised if they do. (One of my seminal moments as a gossip writer came right after I had quit work at People for the whateverth time, when the marriage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie was announced. I almost passed out in disbelief.) Some 600,000 visitors a year go to Graceland, which I believe is now owned by Lisa Marie, though she has given up ownership of the company making a fortune on tours. Priscilla retains business interests as well. Suits are ongoing.

So, like, I would not be waiting for the King in this creepy, musty Jungle Room. I believe it was made out of some back patio, which was enclosed in the mid 1960s, obv.
   I do not understand the American obsession with Graceland, written about in a New Yorker article recently.  Yes, it is the second most-visited private home after the White House (ugh). I can almost understand when I listen to the Paul Simon song. And yet.  
   Ping wanted to go aboard the mouldering airplanes. And look at the souvenirs, so readily available at every turn. But in the end, she found them tacky and contented herself with some old black-and-white postcards, four for a dollar, of the young Elvis when he was beautiful and without sideburns. 
    She did not look back when we left.

watching the water flow

Today would have been my 40th wedding anniversary.


excuse me?

Am I living in an alternate universe? Who was she again?
Also, what's with her hands?  #britneyspears #wtf



Emma Ann lights up the Goose.

Kid readies his duck for the race.
 Holidays are for kidz. And my great enjoyment is watching them enjoy. Thomasville is making a comeback bid as a real hamlet, and to that end threw a major July 4 party. The duck races of old were returned, there was live music (country, bluegrass, gospel) and fireworks over the rodeo arena. No one was hurt in the making of these pictures.
The adults are busy launching the ducks, but this kid is catching crawdads.
This is the flame-shooting alligator, but the big hit turned out to be the pooping dog firework. If you are lucky I will get you one.


fireworks and fixins

Buy a lot of condiments you don't ordinarily use. Not to mention foods.
Make sure the grill works.
Buy fireworks.
Clean up.
Shuck corn.
Buy ice for the Dr. Pepper and Coke and beer. I draw the line at Budweiser.
Get ready for duck races in the river and fireworks at night.
Homemade ice cream and fried pies at the Community Center.
Be American. At least for today.


meanwhile, back on the island

The resplendent railings

Before. Note sleeping dog. But don't bother her.
My sister Erin has been at Claudia's Surf City for a couple weeks.
Thank goddess.
She wrote a haiku celebrating the season.

Paint chips fly briskly
Like snow, blowing in sea hair
Rites of Block Island. 

Well, her rite anyway. She's the railing and Adirondack chair queen. However, she has taken matters into her own hands and purchased plastic chairs which will never need to be painted! The railings, though. 


ping on the mississippi

Did you know that you should wear red underwear for luck  while traveling? I did, but I had almost forgotten until packing for my road trip. Oh yeah, I do have a pair of red underwear! Don't you?
  Also, Ping and most of her friends won't drink iced drinks, especially in the morning. Room temperature water, no ice. (Of course Ping begins her day with a boiled egg and a large helping of yogurt with an avocado, a banana, some blueberries and any other fruit available mixed in. She is unusual in that most people from Taiwan revile milk products, especially cheese, which she likes.) Lately she has discovered a taste for latte, so I put together a little kit for her to take home.
Ping saw the pyramid shining in the distance (top) from the bank of the Mississippi River. I tried to find it by eye, but almost took us back across the river to Arkansas, before getting lost again and then magically finding the parking lot. The pyramid was opened as an arena in 1991, hosting basketball games and the Rolling Stones. However, due to a series of problems, it went dark in 2007. In 2015, it opened as a Bass Pro shop, including a shooting range, restaurants and hotel as well as the Missouri organization's usual ourdoorsy huntin' and shootin' offerings. Think L.L. Bean to the millionth power.


Ping was incredulous. From a bridge, she filmed the huge catfish swimming in the store's pond. She took pictures of the alligators in their enclosure. And for the capper, we took the world's largest freestanding elevator to the apex of the pyramid.
   I was about done just on the $10 ride up, watching the racks of clothing and stuffed bears on the ground whoosh away. But when it came to going out on the observation platform, I hugged the inside wall as Ping bravely walked across the glass floor to the railing. Granted, the view of the city and The Big Muddy was staggering, but I din't need to get any closer to it.
   "Taoling, I don't think you afraid of anything!" Ping said.
   "Well, I'm afraid of heights."
   "Me too."
   "You were standing right next to the edge!" Just the memory, as I write this, gives me a frisson.
   But she gamely explored the entire perimeter as I nursed a bottle of the local Ghost River Gold at the Sky High Catfish Cabin bar around the aquarium. It was smack in the  center, about as far as from the edge as you can get.