Advice for buying a suit of armor
| I proved to myself that I CAN go home again, but the suit of armor is gone. Way back when, back in 1999 or so, it stood on the corner of Main and Lake, in front of the antique shop, guarding Valatie, New York from invading Normans. I’d pass him almost every day on my way to and from the bank, supermarket or post office. Sometimes I’d think the job bored him, for I would see him doing a soft shoe, while singing and strumming a guitar,
“I’m not much to look at, nothin’ to see
Just glad I’m livin’ and happy to be”
In the year I moved from Valatie to the New Jersey shore, the Wild Horse Package Store took over the location, “Package” being a fancy Norman word for booze. The Tin Man’s residence has moved next door, but it is in the middle of the block. There isn't room for him to walk sentry duty, so I suppose he has either been scrapped, sold, or lives inside. I hope he is still on this earth; I should ask but I am late for an appointment for lunch at Kurtz' house.
That’s Margaret, my old employee and friend. Kurtz is not her surname, but when I turn right off County Route 21 and into the dense woods, I can only steal from other writers that borrow from Heart of Darkness. As I drive the narrow path through the thicket, I can hear Pamela saying to me, “It looks like Blair Witch Project.” It was dark and stormy the night when she said that, but even in daylight the description holds. Eventually I come to a clearing where stands the cedar-slabbed two-story house with the pond in back.
I have my dog with me; to prevent hostilities, Margaret has locked Bergey, her beast of the woods, in her bedroom. While Margaret and I exchange a hug and I admire the improvements made since the last visit, Farfel conducts a search for Weapons of Mass Destruction. Dogs need a reason to believe, and W’s Holy Grail serves her just fine. By the time our spiritual leader is back on the Crawford ranch, clearing brush full time, she will have found a soup bone buried by the former occupant of our house, vindicating her faith..
An hour later we are back in our car and on our way to an art dealer in Chatham, to deliver paintings done by my late wife. The burghers and yeoman of Northern Columbia County have created a bull market for her work, which as recent as October of 2003 was hidden away in two metal cabinets in my garage. Kathy, the gallery owner, stumbled on them when she stopped to examine other items I was giving away in preparation of moving. All but one of the original consignment has sold; she is thrilled to have a new batch. “People keep asking ‘when are you going to get more?’ She goes on to tell of the man who bought the first painting. He has another in a shop window of his store in Hudson.
That’s our next and last stop before going home. I don’t have an address but I am sure it is on Warren Street, the main drag of this river town in the throes of gentrification. What was once the whorehouse of the state capital, twenty miles north, is now dotted with trendy shops and galleries. I would not call the home of the elongated, orange cat on Masonite a gallery, nor could it be a ‘shoppe.’ It does not have a name, but does have old furniture in the window, along with the aforementioned feline. That work of art is unmistakable from the street. I park, approach the door and find it locked. A small sign tells me the proprietor will ‘be right back’ so I take a seat on a bench in front of it. The dog mimics the cat caught in oil by stretching out on her tummy and making goo-goo eyes at the passerby. She is rewarded with petting, while I answer the inevitable ‘what kind of dog is that?’ queries.
We get up so she might have a drink from the bottle in the back of the car. As she laps the water, several humans stop to stare at the cat at leisure. Back on the bench, I call Pam and reflect my Pilgrim’s Progress, or lack thereof. As I hit the button that ends the call, I realize we have been here thirty minutes, and that the capitalist that runs the nameless emporium is probably not coming back. Perhaps if he sells the painting, he will have enough money to afford one of those signs with a clock face on it, but for now, I decide it is time to head for New Jersey.
Light traffic on the Thruway makes the mind ponder the spelling of the word ‘serendipity.’ I am trying in my mind to write something about art without resorting to the hoary cliche that artists attain fame after death. A little man in a railroad cap throws a switch in the brain, shuttling me back to the suit of armor. I consider the possibility that Margaret could have bought it. Her house in the woods, unlike my old palace atop the hill, is plagued by mosquitoes that migrated north from their ancestral home, the New Jersey Coast. The metal suit is the ultimate defense to the attack of the New Jersey State Bird, as joke writers call it.
The memory of the suit came back to me in May, when the planets Mercury, Saturn and Neptune teamed up to produce a veritable crescendo of chaos. Not only was spring greeted by mosquitoes, but my new house was bedeviled by carpenter bees. At the same time, Congressman Reynolds kept calling to invite me to dinner with President Bush. Good lord! How much calamity could one man take? A pest control specialist dispatched the bees in the direction of our leader in Washington. We were both pretty sure others in the tribe resided in his head. The sawdust coming from his ears was the tip-of.
As for the mosquitoes, Charley the fearless Orkin imitator, told me he could do little, so suffer I must. The simple act of walking the dog was sure to make stockholders in Benadryl & Calamine Inc. happy. As I would return home, the neighbors marveled at the St. Vitus Dance variations I would render until I could reach the medicine cabinet. I took to smearing my face, neck, arms and legs with a repellent, which kept the dog, Pam and neighbors away, but not the ‘skeeters.’ The house has a lovely backyard, but to use it we had to put up screened canvas houses. As we were doing so one Saturday, we mentioned the problem to our neighbor across the fence.
“In a few years you will be almost immune to them.” That sounded comforting until we realized that each summer we would need clothes a half-size larger to fit over the swollen bites that no longer bothered us. It was about that time that the vision of the man in armor took hold of me, and would not let go, but I had to tell Pam that armor makers did not hammer out such suits for women. Somehow our relationship survived. It probably had something to do with shiny clothing not being fashionable.
Traffic thickens the further south I drive. I run into a slowdown due to an accident near Suffern, which gives me time to reconsider the whereabouts of my Maginot line. I can't see Margaret donning armor, so the suit is around somewhere in upstate New York. When I arrive home, I call Directory Assistance and ask for the number of the funky antique store on Main Street. They connect me to the Wild Horse, which is having a sale on muscatel. The proprietor hops next door and summonsd the antique dealer. Breathlessly I wait to pop the question. A woman’s voice comes on the line.
“Do you still have the suit of armor?”
“You mean the one that was in front of my store for ages? The troubadour?”
As I hold the receiver to my head, the high-pitched whine of another skeeter twangs in my other ear. I manage to mumble as I slap myself, “Yes, that’s the one.”
My head is ringing. I cannot be sure but I think she is saying that the suit is now in Hollywood and will be second lead in Pirates of the Caribbean II.
I begin to cry but I doubt she can hear me as she talks on.
“He has such a wonderfully soft voice,
“I’ve got a woman, crazy for me,
She’s funny that way.”
Ocean Gate, June 24, 2004