Saturday, October 8, 2011

Immigrant Song

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

Just been wearing a pair of rubber cleaning gloves for a month - they make it hard to write.

I loved how Patti Smith was on our flight from England when we arrived in the US. I saw her getting into her seat up in business class. (We were in steerage, in honor of my grandfather who arrived at Ellis Island back in the 20s, all alone at the age of 11). It felt like we were being shepherded into the US by a high echelon Rock Air Marshall. The top would be Chuck Berry.

Then she stood directly in front of us in the line while we waited for Eric to go through US immigration for the first time. I've never met her, always been afraid to, too in awe to. But she seemed cool, standing there two feet away with her guitar on her shoulder, checking her phone. ("Excuse me?" someone says. She turns around, wearily expectant. Oh the price of punk poetess fame. "There's no cell phone use until after baggage claim, ma'am.")

We slipped past as she shut off her phone and the agent jokingly let Eric in to the United States, playing around with Eric's precious MBE, the sealed, US immigration-issued Mysterious Brown Envelope we'd been told to present, unopened, on arrival or risk blowing the whole thing. We'd been manically guarding it for three weeks. It was stunning, how lighthearted they all were in immigration at Newark. Polite, genial even. We almost expected them to offer us coffee and donuts.

I missed that. I missed the stupid fun we have in America. Like the young woman who was selling a stove on Craigslist. She gave us her address, and mentioned how when getting directions off the internet that one of the streets had changed its name. She wasn't specific with the street name.

As we passed Greg Browder Way on the right for the fourth time it finally made sense.

"It says here 'turn right on Cheesecock Road'."

I'm in love with the ease of things in America. You want to rent a car? Buy a bed? Get copies made? Send this, receive that? Building supplies? A $50 stove from Craigslist? A $40 dehumidifier? Easy - any time! Eat, eat, eat - fresh, local food, or unhealthy crap. Just say when. Every night around twenty to seven I find myself getting anxious, wondering if we have enough food, a bottle of wine. Then I remember the 24 hour supermarket a few blocks away.

Choice! Beer World down the road and the Wine Cellar right next to it with stuff from all over the world. Usefully within walking distance for when the snow sets in?

I love our new town. It's across the river from trendy, happening Hudson. Near Saugerties and Woodstock with their rich hippie daytrippers. But this is the land that time forgot. Small town America with enough of a freak quotient that nobody marks you as an outsider. The first time we looked around the place, the only people on the old-fashioned main street were a cop putting a handcuffed biker into a police car. I think they were laughing. Even if you are an outsider, everyone is friendly. The postal workers all came out to shake hands with us when we told them we'd moved in to town. The insurance agent clapped Eric on the back and thanked us for our business, apologizing again for not being able to insure the house during Irene.

"Let's go out for a beer sometime!" Then we saw him across the street in the local attorney's office. "I just need him to help me (cough) clear up a few things," he said sheepishly.

Irene the hurricane is just plain "Irene" here. Everyone was affected by the storm: water in basements, trees down, businesses closed temporarily. The weird weather continued until a few days ago: torrential rain every other day and the Catskill Creek that flows through town and the huge Hudson River just minutes away rising. There's been a swimming pool in the backyard where the Previous Owners had an above ground swimming pool, a circle of water several inches high where for the last year or two a nasty piece of plastic sat collecting moss and dead leaves.

The Previous Owners - we have an ongoing relationship with this shadowy entity. The house needs a lot of work. The Previous Owners didn't intend to sell the place but lost their grip and had to let it go:

"Why, why did you put this outlet at the top of the door frame?"

"Did you have to wood panel that room? And what's with the toilet nook?"

"Nasty vinyl tiles - on the ceiling?"

No stove, no refrigerator. Just a food-encrusted early model microwave cemented into the kitchen cabinets.

At first we gave Previous Owners points for building a bar and having a sound system in the basement. The building inspector said it was all a repository of life-threatening mold and should be removed as quickly as possible.

I walk around in paint-splattered clothes, looking longingly at the purple suede vintage shoes I forced hopefully into my suitcase over two months ago. There are lots of shows and concerts and markets and events happening at this time of the year and we'll get out to see something soon.

Fixing up a neglected house is the price of admission for living in one of the prettiest places in the world that's also conveniently located in the hugely populated Northeastern US. Tall tall trees with leaves changing color, the dark Catskill mountains on one side of the town and the enchanted Hudson River on the other. There's a bird sanctuary around the corner and deer, foxes, even bears have been spotted on our street. We watched a white skunk - weird prehistoric-looking creature - strolling by. I had to explain to Eric what it was, how they spray their distinctive, lingering scent when threatened. My older brother was sitting outside smoking a cigarette and noticed the creature sitting a few feet away. Eric's christened him "Mike". Like the name Dave in England, every other guy up here is Mike. The rest seem to be called Gary.

Ran into an old neighbor from Williamsburg our first day. We're two hours from the city but it feels like being there in some ways: the NY Times, Post and Daily News for sale in the gas stations, the accents of some of our neighbors who moved up from Brooklyn years ago, the Breakstone's butter and bagels and delis and friends coming "up from the city". I love being in New York again, to hear talk of Albany and Governor Cuomo. To see the aisle of pasta and Italian grocery items - I missed it more than I realized.

I just got a call that the contents of the shipping container are being delivered on Tuesday. What was in that thing, anyway? We've been camping in the house for over a month with folding chairs and restaurant table borrowed from the swell guy who owns the local coffee place (who is named neither Gary or Mike but Robert, so there goes that theory.) Once our own stuff arrives I think we can say the moving odyssey is over. There's still a lot more to do on this place, but I look forward to getting back to doing things I have a vague memory of doing before, like music and writing.

I might even wear the purple suede shoes.


the fly in the web said...

Hey, you're back to a land of the living!
People see them in the streets.
Shops are generally open as opposed to being generally closed.
When we moved I felt as though life had acquired colours again...and it looks as if it is likewise for you.
Great, isn't it!

oldmanneill said...

The new neighborhood sounds dreamy.

Former occupants do crazy things. I used to curse at "Uncle Larry" on a daily basis for some his less than stellar workmanship.

Amy said...

You're so right, Fly. Like the Hollies sang "I'm alive, I'm alive! (I'm alive, I'maliveI'malive)"

Amy said...

OMN,I enjoyed the glimpse of your life in Pittsburgh! And I like how you named your previous owner. Guess we're all "Uncle Larry" to someone eventually?

John Medd said...

Consider this a good luck in your new home card; seriously though, good luck in your new home. When's Eric's 1st. NY radio show going out?

Amy said...

Thanks John, as soon as he puts down the hammer? The records are arriving tomorrow!

Poppy Robbie said...

Welcome back to The Motherland, Amy. Glad to hear you guys are getting everything squared away up there. Take care!

sam said...

Welcome back, Amy...not everyone can say they've been a temporary ex-patriot! Last year I moved back to my hometown - only 40 mins. south of Denver, but in spite of the ridiculous overdevelopment and suburban atmosphere that has sprung up since I was a kid - I still find myself experiencing those small town moments that are oddly precious and special...your view of your new town is touching and wonderful, and i'm so happy that you already feel at home...

Amy said...

Makes a TX visit much more likely for next year Robbie - hope we'll see you.

Thanks Sam - I took a break from unpacking our stuff (it arrived safely!) and walked to the library yesterday evening and was just so thrilled to be here, with all the leaves changing color and the wacky painted houses and boats on the creek. Hope things are going well for you "back home".

nocoates said...

Tori Spelling was in the immigration line next to me when I returned to Canada from Australia. You definitely win the "celebrity in the immigration line" sweepstakes.

Welcome back to the US. See you before too long, I hope!

Amy said...

Thanks Norma, we're almost your neighbors now (with Niagara Falls as our back fence).