I’m not dead. I’m just buying a house. My brain is a melty mess of mortgage applications and inspections and lists of lists of things that need to be listed. My apartment looks like a bomb went off and then a tornado came through and scattered the bomb debris.
Yes, I know there were two presidential debates for which you got zero from me. And I’m sure you’re completely at a loss about whom to vote for or when election day is or what country you even live in. Here’s the upshot:
Debate #2: they argued a lot, circled each other like some wild animals, and it was a tie.
Debate #3: slightly less arguing, sitting down so no circling, and in my personal opinion, the president did better than Mr. Romney.
I’d like to say I’ll do a better job than that in coming days, but that would be such a total lie. I’m a week from closing and I’ve got the beginnings of some sort of chest cold and I just don’t have the mental energy. You know who you’re voting for anyway. So instead, why don’t I tell you a story about my very first trip to New England?
I went to New Hampshire Thursday to visit one of my best friends from college, Angie, and her husband and their two itty bitty kids. Joey came too, meeting me there after a quick jaunt on a terrifying prop plane from NYC. Bless him, although he’s a New Yorker and almost never drives anywhere, Joey picked up the rental car I had reserved, drove an hour to Angie’s house, then drove back to the airport a few hours later to get me and schlep me back up the mountain. And when I say back up the mountain, I literally mean up the mountain. Angie and her husband recently moved into a condo on the peak of a Plymouth mountain. It’s gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. But nobody’s getting up there in the winter. Nobody except that one deranged guy who drags his left leg behind him and carries an axe so he can hack the family to bits when he gets to their place for no reason at all except he was bored. He’s always the only guy who can get up to the top of a mountain in the winter.
The visit was wonderful, if completely different from the way we used to visit with each other. We weren’t drinking because Joey’s on the wagon, Angie’s nursing her 2-month-old, her husband is trying to stick to weekends only, and my gut was barely on the mend from a bizarre revolt it staged the night before. We were asleep by 11pm on various pieces of living room furniture instead of being up until 3:00 cracking wise and getting laughter-induced headaches.
We spent a miserably rainy Friday hauling the little ones through shops in downtown Plymouth while Joey whined that the toddler didn’t like him, and giving the students of Plymouth State University good reason to fear the next 15 years. Joey, never one to be quiet, sang show tunes at full volume, spouted profanity in front of lovely old New Englanders in shops, and played with the tot in puddles. We lunched at a classic diner where I had the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted in my life (check that off the list of Things To Do While I’m In New England), and I posted Instagram photos just to bug Angie, who thinks they’re geigh. (That’s her brother’s alternative spelling, meant to convey a total and sincere lack of hostility toward homosexuals while retaining the essential qualities of calling something “gay.”)
Then we went back to the house and started searching for tiny unfindable toys so the tot could stop screaming and take his nap (and Angie could stop muttering her own obscenities while she turned the house upside down). And Joey and I buried ourselves under a blanket on the couch and revisited the ’90s by watching “Sex and the City” reruns and a VHS copy of “Frankie and Johnny” while Angie fed the infant. Around mid-afternoon, Angie’s parents, grandmother and… surprise! brother Jim showed up for the tot’s birthday party the next morning. Now the wisecracks could start; everybody loves Jim. The 30-somethings left the kids in the custody of the grandparents for a night out to dinner and the bar, which is where the Old Angie came back and nursed a cosmo instead of a baby. This was the part where we quoted old favorite movie lines and gave each other crap about behaviors past and present. The fun continued when we got back to the house, snacking on Nilla wafers and homemade cream cheese frosting (damn Angie’s husband for introducing me to this combo) and watching an old VHS copy of “High Fidelity” while assembling a child’s plastic play kitchen, complete with microwave, cordless phone and salmon sizzling in a skillet. It’s a really interesting collision of worlds when you’re quoting Jack Black with your college chums while assembling children’s playthings.
(We had to use box cutters to separate the pieces from their plastic tethers. I hate those plastic tethers. I nearly stabbed myself in the femoral artery.)
Saturday was the proper celebration of the tot’s birthday. But first, Angie took Joey and me down the mountain to pick up the boy’s Thomas the Tank Engine cake from an amazing in-home bakery and see a few sights. We traipsed through the muck at a family-run farm to visit some cows and munch on some apples. We drove through a covered bridge, which I’d never done. And we saw the 300-year-old farmhouse Angie and her family lived in for the first few weeks of their New Hampshire residency while they househunted. (She bitched that she couldn’t get it clean and I told her she was probably vacuuming up a Founding Father.)
Joey and I left early in the afternoon for our next jaunt, to Hampton Beach. New Hampshire is mighty hospitable in that it doesn’t take much more than 90 minutes to get anywhere worth going to. I have another friend – not from college- who lives in Hampton Beach, and I never see him, so Joey gamely came along. He was lured by the promise of a coastline and a darling bed & breakfast that featured, it turned out, a Scotty named Lincoln, a guest who looked like Donald Rumsfeld, and a lazy-eyed innkeeper who served as the perfect jumping-off point for the Agatha Christie-like murder mystery we immediately began writing aloud. The drive from Plymouth was spectacular, and we spent the afternoon trolling the beach and getting soaked to the knees with the cold sea spray before meeting Colin for an early dinner with his girlfriend and his five-year-old daughter.
On Colin’s urging, Joey and I headed north to downtown Portsmouth after dinner. What a super-New Englandy place. There was an antique shop run by a guy I swear came directly from 1924… book stores and cafes… restaurants and ice cream shoppes with the extra P and the E… churches with clock towers bathed in light and framed by fall foliage… and curving roads lined with brick buildups four stories tall. Perfection. Puritan perfection.
I kicked around Manchester on my own Sunday after dropping Joey off at the airport, since my flight was in the evening. Turns out, everything in Puritanical New England is closed on Sundays, so the little nooks we had found on our drive up to Plymouth were locked up tight. I wound up, if you can believe this, going to see a Disney movie and doing some browsing with my house in mind at Kohl’s, Target, Bed Beth & Beyond and a Sleepy’s mattress store where I stretched and relaxed my aching back while feigning interest in a Simmons Beautyrest Shakespeare Collection Avondale Plush queen sized mattress.
Alright, not feigning. That was a damned comfy bed.
I got home at a relatively early hour and watched Jessica Lange fake a New England accent via my DVR in the first episode of this season’s “American Horror Story” while uploading my photos from the trip. We had done it right, hitting four storied New Hampshire towns at the peak of leaf-peeping time and getting home without feeling exhausted. But the key part of it all was spending good time with great old friends. Things have changed, to be sure. It’s odd to see Angie as a stay-at-home mom after all her years of raging against society for putting women in that place and raging against children for being children. But what has never changed is the depth of the connection my friends and I share… and the charm that New Hampshire gives in fall.
Oh look! Photos!