Letters from Camp Windsor Hill
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 07:59:48 -0400
Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE
Good morning sir:
Yesterday Jason achieved one of his life dreams: He took the hardtop off my Jeep. This involved much unbolting of bolts and some unplugging of electrical connections (for the rear wiper), but now it's the ultimate frat-boy vehicle, and no matter that I don't think Mary Washington College has frats (it being a former women's college) or that my own involvement with fraternities is imaginary and entirely pornographic. I have to say it's pretty nifty riding around with the top off -- there's a great sense of -- well, of something. I'll get back to you what. Jason wanted to take the doors off too but I drew the line there. They're made to come off but I don't like the idea of seeing the road from that angle, and also if you take the doors off you don't have side mirrors. He nagged about it until I finally said, Well, how badly do you want them off? He looked at me and I looked at him and I haven't heard another word about it. The top will have to go back on Friday. In the meantime we found a tarp in the woodshed that we can put over the Jeep if it looks like rain.
Coburn and Eric arrived yesterday evening. Unexpectedly, it made Jason cranky, I think because Eric somehow represents a lot of decisions Jason has had to make lately and still needs to make -- about the band break-up, about what to do for a job (if anything), and now also about where to live. He found out a week ago that the house he and Bob and Coburn have been renting in Silver Spring is being sold and they have to be out September 1, the day after Jason gets back from the final Plan event, which is a 10-day tour of Japan. ...
Anyhow, in re: your hemming and hawing. It was decided unanimously last night at dinner (lasagne with arugula pesto, spinach, fresh tomatoes, and goat cheese) that you ought to come up. The court refused to grant cert., however, on the matter of the editor and the diesel Mercedes station wagon. I'm sure he is an entertaining and lovely man, but having not met him to vouch for I don't think I can put at risk so many people's vacations. If there were to be some kind of personality disaster, it would be in a house crowded with people, some of whom don't really get vacations like this ever and others of whom have sunk comparatively large proportions of their income into coming here. And I'm not just saying that because I want someone to drive up with Lyd -- she's a capable woman who just got through law school, so I have no doubt she can get herself up here alone, although I also think you'd enjoy the conversation in the car. If you were by some mysterious process to talk yourself into coming up here Tuesday, we would figure out a mistake-proof way to have you all meet at LGA (possible at whatever rental-car outlet she'll be coming to).
Something just growled outside, or maybe under the fireplace... always startling when that happens.
Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2003 15:17:48 -0400
Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE
It's a regular Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue moment here just now -- Andy, the rock drummer who is Eric's housemate and who is only 23, just came up dripping from the dock in cut-off kahkis, tattoo showing on one shoulder, flat smooth stomach heaving from a good swim in cold water. Bob Massey, the blond, shaved-head opera guy, is trudging up the walk right now in orange trunks. Jason is smoking in a rocking chair, immersed in the John McPhee Reader. Alas, clouds moved in a couple of hours ago, with sporadic sprinkles and a breeze that's just this side of chilly. It's not going to get up to 70 at this rate. We had a terrific storm in the middle of the night -- rain slashing on the roofs, me lying warm under the covers trying to decide whether I needed to get up and check for open windows downstairs, and for the usual leaks in the back hall upstairs. I stayed in bed, though, and nothing seemed wet this morning except the Jeep seats. The Jeep was covered, but water got in around the tarp's edges, as Jason and I discovered when we went to the spring to refill the six-gallon jugs for the kitchen.
The water in the house comes direct from the lake, so we try not to drink too much of it. Did I tell you about my oh-so-butch water-supply adventure Saturday morning? The water pressure was down to nothing in the kitchen and I was having my annual moment of dread because I was going to have to call the caretaker and have him come over. But first I checked the circuit breakers, which seemed fine, and then I went down to the pumphouse in the little stand of pines by the dock. The pump was on. So I emptied my pockets and waded over from the dock to the plastic intake pipe, and found that a fish tail was sticking out of it. It took some minutes to dislodge, but the water pressure's been fine since. I was inordinately proud.
It was sunnier this morning and a bunch of people appear to have worn themselves out playing tennis. Now they're napping or reading the new Harry Potter book, of which we have I think four copies. No doubt you'd be disgusted, but the fact of the matter is that I too am going to read it as soon as I get a chance. I am sorry you won't come up. Next time I'll start badgering you months in advance. I had no idea you wouldn't just refuse outright the moment such a misadventure was proposed...
Date: Wed, 02 Jul 2003 11:18:05 -0400
Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE
It's 10 a.m. and only the pure of heart are awake here. Bob was up first. I found him emptying the dishwasher, coffee already made, when I crept downstairs at 9 to start bread. The problem with this house is that it's so lightly framed, and also that its foundations shift every winter in the cold. A couple of years ago, it got new foundation piers -- now the living room floor and the hearth don't part company every year, and you can actually close the doors to the china cabinet in the dining room, and walking along the upstairs hall no longer bounces the person in the far bed in Auntie Floss's room. But still the place is pretty tightly sprung, and the beds squeak if you so much as move a foot, and the old metal door hardware is capable of symphonic sounds. So creeping down the stairs is in fact not possible. The accomplished guest can tell who is where in the house simple by the weight and location of footfalls and the pattern of footsteps (Eric's, for instance, come quick and goofy, like a puppy's -- only much bigger, of course).
Anyhow, the dough is rising on the old woodstove (its cooking surface is now hidden by a big piece of butcher block, handy for kneading, and its chimney is now a pile of bricks out below the tennis court). Bob is in the dining room, typing up something on a little fold-up keyboard connected to his Palm. Scott is sitting beside me on the porch, reading Moby Dick, of all things, and asking me questions about the difference between a tiller and a wheel. Brad has just left for his run, after doing a lot of stretching in the living room while I was checking e-mail. Lord but that boy is ... nice. He went with me to take the recycling to the transfer station yesterday, still in a mesh running shirt and shorts and that wonderful smile of his, asking me questions all the way (it's always nice to be around other reporters, so I don't have to ask all the questions myself). Then we went into town to buy some bins for the recycling, the better to organize our astonishing production of empty beer bottles. We ended up at the town library, which is right across from the hardware store and is a handsome little rough-stone building from 1909 that's on the National Register. I had a fine conversation with a chatty librarian about their new addition while Brad read an article about the future of marriage in Newsweek.
What else? We had breakfast-for-dinner night last night -- waffles, a strata, home fries, fruit salad. The food was good but the highlight of the meal came during a discussion of caloric intake when Massimo said something about Coburn's being the thinnest person at the table and Andy Gale immediately stood and pulled up his shirt to show off how flat his stomach is. The night before, Mary and Massimo made fish tacos, which were excellent. Yesterday's bread was maple wheat. Today's is orange wheat. Tonight's menu has yet to be decided, but Massimo is threatening to make carbonara for lunch. After the strata, that's close to a death sentence.
Lydia arrived at 3 a.m. and has just come downstairs -- the last to rise, I think. Massimo is badly sunburned. He was the author of yesterday's most comic moment, in which he came down onto the dock in the late afternoon and without pausing walked right off the far end and into the lake. Charlie Chaplin would have been proud. Jason is very excited about renting a boat for water skiing. The copies of the new Harry Potter are being read assiduously. There are three iPods playing music -- we have several thousand tracks here, on three devices the size of packs of cigarettes -- plus two titanium Powerbooks, one very stylish clamshell iBook, and a Dell. There has been more loud music at night than usual. The Rolling Stones were playing so loudly during a drunken poker game last night that I'm sure people on the other side of the lake were disturbed. I had to retreat to the dock with Brad to look for shooting stars.
That's all for now -- I need to go check on that bread dough. You did get the pictures I sent yesterday, no?
P.S. Little kids on the dock of the next camp over have been making noises like seals all morning. No doubt this is their way of getting back at us for the Stones.
P.P.S. Brad is back from his run and is now breast-stroking out to a buoy 30 yards or so off the dock. Show off.
Date: Fri, 04 Jul 2003 11:23:55 -0400
Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE
The lake is restless this morning, unsettled by a humid breeze from the south and a hazy cloud cover. Kind of like America, if one is in a mood to make such comparisons -- a big country, still and cold in the depths but so often pointlessly agitated where you can see it. The flag is snapping crisply above the house, waves are lapping at the dock, birch leaves are fluttering wildly, speedboats are droning in the distance, and a bird that has a trilling call like a cheap party favor is hiding somewhere in the pines on the east end of the porch, beyond the table cluttered with bug sprays and sunblocks and the stack of firewood. Only Bob and I are up, the purest of the pure. We have run out of yeast; otherwise I'd be making pizza dough for tonight instead of writing.
The news since I last wrote: Wednesday Jason rented a boat fast enough to pull water skiers. Even those who don't do that kind of thing -- a group that as you can imagine includes me -- spent the whole afternoon down on the dock, peering off into the distance and yelling encouragement and catching the boat lines when Jason or Andy brought it in to pick up a new round of skiers. "All-Sport" Coburn proved to be the best skier, going out on one ski and generally setting the standard for elegance. Chad was handsomely athletic, slaloming from side to side across the boat wake. Scott and Jason did well. Andy just about lost his trunks on one attempt to get up out of the water (I have video). Neither Sean nor Massimo could get going, however. Sean's attempts took place on the far side of the lake, but Massimo's disgrace came right in front of our dock and the next camp's, on which a bunch of five-year-olds gathered to taunt him. Not pretty. He took it like a man, though, and rewarded us with linguine carbonara for dinner. Just for good measure, we also had Jason's puttanesca and my mushroom risotto, which I was a little concerned about making for a real Italian but which came out well. He said I was the second-best risotto maker he knew -- after himself.
Yesterday had a little more drama. Brad and I started the day off making pecan rolls that mixed my dough recipe with his mother's topping (two phones calls to central Ohio). We had some methodology issues, which we resolved without bloodshed, and although Brad seemed doubtful as the baking dishes went into the oven, they came out beautifully. Later Jason lead an intrepid team (All-Sport, Andy, Bob, Brad, Chad, and Sean) on a hike that he advertised as being six miles long but that ended up being nearly 10. The hikers, exhausted and achey and exceedingly cranky, finally stumbled back down the hill from the driveway after 8, when the coals were already glowing in the grill for hamburgers and hotdogs. My sense is that the whole misadventure came closer to unpleasantness that one would wish.
What else? I have twice biked to the scenic overlook, which is on the far side of the lake at the top of a long climb on route 17. Many of the hills here are fierce, but that one's the longest -- or at least the longest I've ever dared to take on. I always come up here fearing that I won't be able to make it all the way up, and it's a great relief that I did (even on the lightest of my bikes, and in a gear I was embarrassed to use).
Today promises to be a day of chores -- refilling the drinking-water containers at the spring, taking trash and recycling to the transfer center, cleaning the house, persuading Jason that he does indeed have to put the hardtop back on the Jeep. We leave tomorrow morning. Then my stepfather and stepbrother et al. come up. I'll come back Sunday, after a night of lobster-eating in Portland with Jason and Lydia, but to a different room and different guests and different menues. It will be weird.
Almost everyone has come down by now, so there's a long line of chairs and coffee cups and pecan-roll plates and people with their feet up on the porch railing. Bob's reading one of last month's New Yorkers, Eric's still plowing through Harry Potter, and Chad's making occasional wookie sounds (he's very good at this). And me? I'm done writing.
P.S. Answers to your earlier questions: Brad is Work Brad, not Upstairs Brad (he's way too A-list to be vacationing with the likes of me). You met him at the poetry potluck. Apparently you'll have to pay closer attention. The tennis court is paved with red clay. Brad, who freelances for Tennis magazine, was quite impressed. A Palm is a "personal digital assistant" -- one of those little palm-sized computers that basically keep track of your address book, your calendar, and your memos. Bob has a fold-up keyboard for his.
Date: Tue, 08 Jul 2003 13:45:41 -0400
Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE
I suppose you'll want to know all about the nude midnight swims, which turned out again this year to be a highlight of the visit here for lots of people -- not just me and Scott, as you might expect. I haven't quite worked out the reason for this yet. We'll get to all that at the end of this report, I promise. But first:
One thing I failed to do was write down snippets of dialogue while the Borg was here. Sometimes at dinner or on the dock I felt like there must be a camera crew just over my shoulder taping for a summerhouse version of MTV Cribs. ("Crib" is rap-star talk for "home," as you must know if you have cable in Florida.) Now I only remember a few lines from a week's worth of inventive conversation. "What I'm sayin'," pronounced in the most droll tone possible, is Bob's way of agreeing with someone. "Not so much" is Chad-speak for "No." Chad is also the person most likely to say "Dude!" in a way that sounds entirely authentic -- especially if you're riding around in a Jeep with its top off. And every time Andy did something entertaining, like dive into the lake holding his glasses over his head so that he could then put them on, Eric would grin and pat his stomach and adopt a faux-hillbilly accent to say, "That's my boy!" Which wasn't idiomatic, particularly, but was fun -- Eric the experienced Indie-rock bassist as the proud father, Andy the young dummer as the son with the stomach to die for.
So now I'm saying "Dude!" and "Not so much" myself, straining credibility every time I do. And when I'm not doing that, I'm affecting a laughable Italian accent à la Massimo. Weeks may pass before I recover. You'll have to have make sure the "Dude!" thing has worn off entirely if you plan on introducing me to someone I might get a crush on.
I think I've reported on the water-skiing day and on Jason's hike. Friday, the final full day for everyone but me, turned out to offer the best weather of any day all week -- warm, consistent sunshine, perfect for basking on the dock. The only problem is that the dock is 30 or 35 years old, and the logs it rests on are well past their floatational prime. Even when no one's on it, one corner is all but underwater; with 12 or 13 of us, fully half the dock is awash and beer bottles start floating away. But it was a perfect day for that. Mary got thrown in, and then Lydia -- I guess because some people were concerned that not everyone had been in the water. Lydia did not take kindly to the indignity at first, but the water was perfect and she was smiling after a minute or so. Coburn floated on and off the dock on a raft she had found in the pumphouse. I borrowed Chad's goggles so I could open my eyes underwater without losing my contacts -- a highlight for me.
Friday night Brad and I made pizzas, with help from Massimo, who grilled veggies for us outdoors. Brad is about the most helpful, responsible guy you could hope to have as a guest. He was willing to stay in the kitchen to the very last pizza, making sure everyone was fed before starting in himself. He also came with me twice to take the trash to the transfer station (recycling bins rattling with beer bottles, including a mortifying number of Miller High Lifes), and he even volunteered to mop the kitchen floor Saturday morning in the burst of pre-departure cleaning. Besides the mopping, there was the ritual emptying of the trash cans, the sweeping of the bedrooms, the shaking out of the rugs, the taking of the Jeep out to the spring on Route 16 to refill the water jugs, the putting of clean sheets on all the beds, and the taking of the laundry to Oquossoc to be sent over, as always, to Butler's commercial laundry in Skowhegan. New this year was getting the hardtop back on the Jeep. I have to say driving around with just the sky above was lots of fun. And not just for me -- Jason, Brad, Scott, and Massimo were all big Jeep fans, too.
After the Saturday morning chores two cars left for DC. Jason, Lydia, Brad, and I drove to Freeport, because Brad wanted to see the big L. L. Bean store. If you've ever been to Freeport in the summer, you can imagine that on the Saturday of a Fourth of July weekend it's claustrophobically crowded. I had to retreat to a Starbucks with an iced coffee and sit in a protected corner. Then I drove Brad to the airport and met up with Jason and Lydia for dinner at my favorite Portland restaurant, Walter's, which has a lobster-with-madeira-and-mushrooms-over-angel-hair dish that is one of the best on the planet. They left Sunday morning, and I came back here.
Oh, yeah -- the nude midnight swims. Eric and Chad started these one hot night last year, and they were an instant hit. Chad especially is a fan. It's some kind of fraternity-bonding thing, I think -- the flashlight walk down the flagstones on the hill, the communal shedding of shorts on the dock (this year the shorts and towels had to go on the upturned canoe), the diving and jumping and cannonballing and bellyflopping into the cold water by the beam of a single flashlight propped on one of the plastic bins that hold life-preservers, the toweling-off afterwards in the dark while everyone tries not to seem self-conscious and also tries not to stare, or at least not to be seen staring. This year Coburn came along -- our first girl nude midnight swimmer -- besides Eric, Chad, Andy, Sean, Scott, Brad, and me. It was quite entertaining, although it won't surprise you to hear that going for a swim with hot naked guys at midnight wakes me right up. Even though -- and I know you won't believe this -- I didn't look. Really. Honest. Not once. Sometimes I'm so damned well behaved that even I can't believe it.
Enough already. Hope you had a good time in the Adirondacks. I should be back in D.C. Friday or Saturday.