My parents spent $13,000 or some shit on their pontoon boat and another thousand or two for the dock. Every year they spend, fuck if I can say for sure, but probably another thousand or fifteen hundred on dry dock storage in a big boat shed, glorified as a marina, and eight hundred or so for a crew of rednecks to do a sloppy, half-assed job installing the dock in the spring and removing and stacking it in the fall. They dock the boat in a shallow cove, the next thing to a marsh. It was dry over the summer, so their little bit of lakefront was marshier than usual. They had barely enough depth to get the boat out from the dock without scraping the muddy bottom. Every time they go out, the propeller gets covered with lily pads, algae, and other weedy slop that my dad (and I, if I’m around) have to scrape off. Rodents have already gotten into the engine housing at least once and chewed up the wiring. Water apparently got into the engine this summer, causing it to cough even at idle and to strain and buck at speeds as low as 2,000 RPM. You know, water: something your boat might be exposed to on a lake.
This next-to-useless money pit charms the sweet everloving shit out of my parents. I always figured they could rent a pontoon boat if they wanted to fuck around on one, but that would involve going to another lake, which would be problematic because reasons. Having a pontoon boat of one’s own on the lake of one’s own is excellent bougie for retirees of a certain class who regard Lake Winnipesaukee as overdeveloped and overromneyed to the point of untenable crassness and poor taste. They built a bunch of condos around it, libertarian twits won’t stop whipping out their live free or die stiffies, and a Mormon family showed up: more like Lake Wouppadefauquindoux, yes? Pardon my French, as they say; the Quebeckers aren’t reputed to speak it tout fauquin ouelle, either, and don’t forget, they produced Paul “Da Smoothie wif D Money” LePage. In my time, my parents have evolved from opposing pontoon boats on principle as noisy motorized affronts to proper armstrong-powered water recreation in crappy old canoes and rowboats to supporting pontoon boats as da good bougie kine. This change of heart (you could have one, Rikki) corresponds to their becoming older and less agile, and also to their becoming older and more affluent, so no, I don’t know where the correlations stop and the causations start.
What hasn’t changed is their obsessive Adirondack aesthetic, except to get stronger and worse. My parents weren’t culturally appropriating shit from the Dutch when they were living in Pennsylvania; it was too low-class. Now they’ve at last arrived in a place where one might summer, where my mom in fact did summer as a child, but on the cheap because her parents were semi-functional, not-too-poor poors with more education than sense, some long-term debt and, in my grandmother’s case at least, a weird sort of part-proto-hipster, part-earnest fascination with the Adirondacks’ low English drunks. A stray fruitboy could show up there, feel the abyss staring back, and frantically ask himself where the hell his plants went, but my parents didn’t raise me to be a fruitboy, so that’s my problem. God could I use a good berry patch up there just to keep the Devil away from my idle hands. The inchoate sense of this that I had as a child has been fully conscious for years as I’ve come to ever more fully realize that agriculturalists are way the hell saner than the sorts of layabouts, retirees (I repeat myself–mostly), drunks, generational welfare crackers, dissipated trust funders (I repeat myself again), summer camp weirdos, and other losers in the Game of Farming who retreat into the useless woods for a complete alienation from the means of production.
Don’t worry, though, Willie: this baby ain’t about to grow up to be a cowboy. Plants don’t shit everywhere. They don’t need anyone’s arm elbow-deep in their assholes at three am (I must not be nearly as lonely as I was hoping), their nuts cut off, or a big tube full of overnighted sperm from one of the lucky boys who got to keep his seed sack shot up their cunts in what P. J. O’Rourke called “like teenage pregnancy, only more so.” Cowgirls are supposedly all kinds of freaky good in the sack because, per Akinokure, they’re big-booty pastoralist chicks and, per country music, they’re cowgirls. Put two and two together and, ooh, you’ll get a clue, too! (Some moralizing Saudi fuckhead that Dinesh D’Souza (?) interviewed about same-sex marriage: “Men go into the desert and do shameful things with their camels, but this doesn’t mean that a man should be able to marry his camel.”) Some cowgirl’s daughter going from the corral to the pole to the bachelor fruitboy’s bed over the course of her career may raise questions you’d better not try to answer about how she got that way, but none of this is as fucked up as the Saratoga racing season. It’s one thing to stimulate the camel and cause milky explosion (Borat was right: there really are people who do that for a living) if the end result is meat, milk, pack, or draft animals; it’s quite another if the result is an inbred horse with weak bones being whipped halfway to death by a short guy who never gets enough to eat so that the posh have a theme for their gambling problems instead of a useful and edifying Maoist agricultural adventure. It might be excusable if we ate horse meat, as my mom has accused the Welsh of doing, but we don’t. I might even be able to put aside my aesthetic, ethical, economic, social, and philosophical objections to the races temporarily if ladies from the horsey-horse crowd put out for me, or if they just got kinda frisky with me, but that never happens, either. I’m still stuck buying that strange on overpriced markets.
As an Eastern European acquaintance explained when she was asked “why it is you women dress so revealingly,” “It is because we are a bunch of horse.” That’s a nice idea, in any event. So is a Saratoga economy that is not just a bunch of horse. So is a world in which I do not have a single degree of separation from the Council of the Sacred Horse. (It’s even worse than you imagine.) David Clayton-Thomas must be like, man, I dropped fucking acid and wrote a song about carousel horses, and I never came up with anything that bad. We know all too well by now what good too much royal horse time does to other criminally inadmissible friends from the great white north, but aside from Robinson and Millington both being strong Sheriff candidates, Sauce Boss would be a great cultural fit with the North Country just by virtue (sic) of his being a lying drunk with a Jeep.
Au Canada post-soviétique, le droit maintient VOUS! Of course this thing has come to Northside Juice and the Shady Blues memes. It’s come to far worse. Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t something screwy about me for noticing whether there’s an actual productive economy in my physical surroundings or just a bunch of hustling, scamming, parasitism, and living off the fat of outside lands dressed up as an economy. Is this a form of autism? Am I rolling in the deep on the Spectrum for being able to make accurate on-the-spot estimates of what percentages of each major ingredient in my food supply, and yours for that matter, are being grown in which places, sometimes to within twenty-mile radii? Am I the Rainman for being able to take the length and convolution of supply lines into account for these same impromptu mental calculations?
I mention these things because on their own they can make me feel like I’m living in a parallel world, looking in with uncomprehending horror on the world that most of those around me inhabit. I’m seeing things that other people aren’t. As a rule of thumb, this is regarded as psychosis. Just because the things I’m noticing are actually there–grain elevators and rail lines and orchards and Safeway warehouses and shit–doesn’t mean that it feels normal to notice them when hardly anyone around me does. There’s something that feels a bit paranoid about noticing how far a place is from the nearest farm valleys of any size and how far jobbers have to drive groceries from the nearest city with a warehouse to finally get that shit on the shelves. Glenn Beck might be interested in selling me some Mormon bulk emergency staples. But where the hell would I store any of them?
In the case of the Adirondacks specifically, I always find myself qualifying comments about what a pretty area my parents retired to with assertions that they’re way the hell north and remote. What’s actually going through my mind during these conversations (which are often with new acquaintances who have no idea about any of this shit) is a deluge of powerful but inarticulable uneasy feelings. When I was little, the most dysfunctional three weeks of my year were the ones we spent every summer, save one, on the lake with my grandmother and the rotating hillbilly horror show that made up most of her social circle. Thank God for the gentlemanly old drunk who was married to her childhood best friend; we didn’t see much of him because she was too busy with her Captain Cragen-looking shithead drunk of a boyfriend and his people, but we saw the Gentleman Drunkard often enough that I was usually able to maintain some hope. Now my mom has gotten my dad to help her one-up her mother by retiring in BoBo style to the same cove on the same fucking lake. Sometimes this includes my mom not getting showered and dressed until it’s time for dinner. Oh dear.
The uselessness of the Adirondack interior only adds to this ill feeling. Other than the sugarbush and a few specialty dairying operations that can hardly grow any of their own feed, the area is useless. As I’ve said before and will surely say again, this is why it attracts so many useless people. The earnestly trashy around there have trash for aesthetics. These can be found in many places that have productive economies, too, but they have an easier time blending into the woodwork around the working classes who are also present because they have work and are busy tending to it. What the Adirondacks also attract to a distressing extent are summer people, a higher class of white trash that cleans up better and highly esteems itself. Every time I see an Adirondack chair I die a little inside. This is not just because I was *GO DIPLOMATS!* a Dickinsonian who saw that misappropriated firewood supply arranged in circles on the Quad, although that doesn’t help my case a bit. Dickinson College was pathetically trying to cultivate the same New English wastrel aesthetic. With a social climber from Albany like Bill Durden at the helm, it would. Of course that fucker was down with retarded-looking, ergonomically disastrous lawn furniture culturally appropriated from an area with rampant untreated depression and ennui enough to floor Holden Caulfield. On second thought, the depression up there isn’t entirely untreated: alcohol can be a treatment. It was for the Gentleman Drunkard. He was from minor lace curtain Irish money, though, and I was from an upper middle class family on the make that championed middle-class sobriety and insisted on it by daylight, in addition to being a preteen. Faaaaaahhhhhk. I always got a bad feeling from the Adirondack chairs and the guide boats and the summer camps, like they’re gonna find someone’s body floating face-down in the lake before long. The coroner will have to notify the newly bereaved family, and it will be the North Country’s fault.
The woods, they haunt us. We don’t have a folkway to practice, and they’re gently, eerily telling us that we don’t belong, killing us softly with their song, killing us softly. Or hardly, we might say, perhaps in a classic North Country DUI. Watch out, or ew, you might get another clue! The Amish are more right than they are wrong about idle hands. Years ago a friend called me from Cape May to tell me that a crowd of dozens of tourists had stopped in front of a hotel to watch two seagulls mate on the eaves. People can get like that when they’re off work and at loose ends for less than a week. They flee to their expensive refuges from the rat race and end up watching birds fuck on a hotel rooftop. Anyone feel like insinuating that I’m a loser for picking blueberries for forty cents a pound now? Jonathan Livingston Stupid Sonofabitch.
The summer people came to the Adirondacks to get away from crazymaking, unhealthy work and living environments in New York City, and to the Jersey Shore to get away from similar environments in Philadelphia. The more time Brenda Jorett spends lounging on a beach chair, the less she spends scolding the Philadelphia area’s White Community. No, that is not a racial statement; if it were, I’d have omitted “White.” Now, that’s a helping of #TeshTips you won’t get on WHYY. Nor will they encourage you to spend less time working yourself to the point of exhaustion and also less downtime totally at loose ends all the live-long day for a week or two straight. That’s like treating a crack problem with heroin: it makes sense if you’re Charlie Sheen. Then again, we’re a pretty insane people.
My parents moved to the Adirondacks in pursuit of this bizarre, unspoken leisure ethic. Upstanding middle-class citizens aren’t supposed to be layabouts, and they certainly aren’t supposed to be proud of their own privileged indolence and irresponsibility, so everything salient about the bizarre lifestyles of affluent rural retirees is communicated in some bogus, inscrutable, and totally inappropriate manner. Taking this bullshit at face value is madness. So is attempting to decipher the actual motivations at play through the hurricane-force fog of passive-aggressiveness, disingenuousness, projection, subliminal messaging, and other habitual miscommuncation. There’s no winning this game.
There’s an incredible childishness to this shit. My mom told me once, during an angry argument provoked by my getting her car stuck at the bottom of the driveway during a modest snowfall because the driveway hadn’t been plowed, that there wouldn’t be a problem with her or my dad having a medical emergency at their house when the driveway was impassible because the ambulance crew could always carry them down the hill on a stretcher. I’d already been furious because she claimed to see nothing wrong with our being snowed in for a full day or two at a time when their road was fully passable solely because the company that plows driveways on their lake is a dipshit squad, so who cares about the last two hundred feet; when she made this comment about having an ambulance crew carry one of them down the hill on a strecher during a medical emergency, like it would somehow be normal and reasonable, I became horrified and frantic, too. I was dealing with a woman in her seventies who refused to admit any concern about the prospect of her overweight husband being carried down an icy 6-12% grade on a stretcher during a snowstorm because he’d just had a heart attack.
Again, this was my mom talking about herself and my dad. It was absolutely fucking nuts. I was an only child dealing with aging, isolated parents whose judgment was failing to the point that one of them was swearing that she’d rather have EMT’s do a Donner Party rescue at her house than live somewhere safe. The only hope and comfort I could take in this was that she was trying to save face in a domestic argument by taking a position so extreme and so reckless that I immediately got myself mentally prepared for the day when I’d have to call adult protective services. I’m lucky I didn’t end up feeling the need to do so that night. It was looking really fucking bad for an hour or so.
If I were really serious about my parents’ access to medical care, I wouldn’t let them forget that if they ever urgently need specalized care they’ll have to be medevacced to Burlington or Albany. From where we lived in Pennsylvania, the same radius would have covered an airlift to Lehigh Valley (site of a preeminent regional burn unit), and a slightly larger radius would have allowed us to be airlifted to Johns Hopkins, Jefferson, or Penn. As I said, the Adirondacks are fucking useless. You might as well catch a ride straight to Boston since they fired up the chopper.
Their solution to this is even worse: Oh, don’t worry, we’ll just move back to the Bay Area someday. Sweet Jesus. That will be a raging nightmare in its own right if they ever go through with it. For reasons that they’ve never justified, they insist that they’ll sell their Adirondack house–which my dad personally designed and they had built on a parcel my mom has owned since the mid-sixties–instead of renting it out, say, on a weekly basis to other summer people. I’m dreading this because moving away from the Adirondacks for good will destabilize my mom more than the deaths of some of her close friends. My only option may be to buy a trailer or hillbilly hut nearby and extend an open invitation to my parents to crash in it on visits to the area, but my mom would probably take offense at the low class and poor taste of such an offer, because that isn’t the kind of Adirondack lifestyle she wanted to cultivate. She wanted the one involving a $420,000 initial outlay (excluding the boat and dock) for a custom retirement house two doors down from her mother’s old cracker cabin, with no central air and no way to install window units without Magyver modifications to the doors. And where she’d better hope that the ambulance carries snowshoes and crampons. (She’s a chronically embittered atheist who resents the religious for their (our?) spiritual comfort, so she doesn’t pray.)
My most recent argument with my parents was over whether or not I should have a car of my own on the East Coast. They were adamant that there was no need for this. They got upset and maybe even offended by my insistence that borrowing one of their cars isn’t adequate. They must forget or not notice how nosy they get about why I want to leave the house (I’m not cruising for smack, so why does it matter?), and they verge on being shut-ins half the time, so it must not occur to them that I might be less interested than they are in personally leading such a lifestyle when I’m not even 35. I’m sure it doesn’t occur to them how they’d feel if they were dependent on me for a loaner car if they were staying with me and wanted to go anywhere.
This is another version of the idiotic mindset that finds snow days cute beyond the age of fourteen. I guess they’re cool for those who are on welfare, and in the North Country, you might as well be, but how the hell do you plan to get to your job and keep it if no one can figure out how to keep the streets clear? I’ve sporadically looked at job postings in the North Country, in the hope of arranging some interviews if my parents can ever get their heads out of their asses about how working in New York is consistent with my being a Californian or (please not) an Oregonian, but I can’t be relying on one of them for a commuter car, and I can’t be relying on some derelict redneck assholes who always drive 20 mph too fast on my parents’ road to plow their drive in time for me to leave for work.
This shit is now happening in spite of the $10,000 of EXTRA money that they wired me to buy a new car. Seriously. But in the meantime, my dad got on my case to go ahead and spend $12,000 on a Fit that I test-drove in Lancaster (it was nice, but not $12k nice), register it in California, and drive it out west by way of my parents’ place. That makes no fucking sense. There are some Kafkaesque licensure and residency requirements for personal vehicle registrations that I researched, to no real avail so far, but I’m not driving a car across the country just because I’m having a dispute with my parents about where I should legally reside, where I should actually live, and why. I went down that rabbit hole because a car salesman who may not know his ass from a hole in the ground told me that it’s illegal to register a vehicle in a state where one isn’t licensed to drive, and I still can’t tell whether he actually knew what the hell he was telling me about the regulations. The surreal thing is that if I can somehow get around the residency bullshit, or narrowly comply with it, I’d be able to get myself an adequately serviceable East Coast clunker for $1,500 or less and a newer, more bitchin’ West Coast ride for $5,000 or less.
To recap, the pontoon boat cost $13,000, and my parents have been sandbagging my proposal to buy a bare-bones car for my own use around their house, WHERE THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO PUBLIC TRANSIT. I’ve suspected as much for some time, but the only way I can resolve this mess is to blindside them and show up with a new used car. I told them that I wouldn’t be complaining about this if they lived in town in Glens Falls or Saratoga Springs, or really anywhere within liberal walking distance of bus or rail service, and given the amount of walking I’ve done to and from transit stops in multiple states, this is no empty promise. Then again, they always pretended that they took my interests into account when they moved north, which is bullshit. So was their ongoing conceit that I somehow wasn’t homeless. I’m not sure that they’ve gotten out of that chronic make-believe even now. It’s absurd, but the main reason I bite my tongue about my homelessness has been a desire not to upset the housed and make them feel awkward.
I really should go to Kamloops and buy freebase for home baking from the RCMP. It’s a bad idea, but it isn’t a relatively bad idea. Just look at what I’m trying to deal with now. It’s so neurotically goddamned middle-class. The upper class doesn’t give a shit about its residency when it wants to buy a Senate seat or, according to recent scuttlebutt, a 19% stake in Rosneft. The lower classes don’t give a shit about their legal addresses when they put their trucks up as collateral for gentlemen’s loans and then get their rigs quasi-stolen for nonpayment/general lender’s avarice because that motherfucker had a set of Duplicate Keys (TM), after all. For the middle class, though, it’s always like, where do you live? I dunno. What do you do for a living? I dunno. Realtalk, if I go fuck some Kamloops crackwhores at a discount by fixing them salmon dinners and shit so they aren’t spending their McDonald’s money on base at the Mountie barn (I’m thinking a sugar cure with a maple syrup glaze, since it’s on the flag, eh), that’ll be more civic and sensible before the lower classes than just about anything I’ve been getting from the upper middle class since at least 2007 as its downtwardly mobile scion. (Rob Ford? That boy wasn’t eating his salmon. That wasn’t an Omega 3 layer he was wearing, partner.)
Instead, I’m dealing with my mom’s intensifying cold sensitivity, which I’m sure has a psychosomatic component. You’re probably thinking, thanks for the diagnosis, Dr. Hasan. You’re welcome. It also has a why the fuck did she move to the Adirondacks if she didn’t want to get cold component. I’m past the point of prejudging Interior BC’s crackwhores as a worse kind of crazy when they could just be a different kind. Just last fall I had a dope whore jonesing in my car and then going into a gas station restroom to inject her latest set into her index finger when she got into a jam and I gave her a ride home. (Homeskillet: “Captain Save-a-Ho has arrived!”) She agrees with me: it isn’t glamorous. But neither is this North Country bullshit. Sobriety doesn’t fix jack shit up there, nor does intoxication, although it might be worth a shot.