Monday, July 20, 2009


I may jump out the door drenched in sun-screen, with a beach ball and a towel, a plastic inflated water toy around my waist, rubber flip-flops, and make like Frankie and Annette down to the beach, and shiver in the chilled air, just to remind myself this cold rainy season is indeed summer.

I hereby proclaim the summer as not being splendid. I know I'm in a bit of a rut when I check Facebook daily. When I choose Turner Classic Movies over The Italian Festival. When I seriously consider Twitter-ing.

My brother is part owner of a horse racing stable and one of his horses, Minister's Appeal, is spending his summer 40 minutes away from me racing at the track in Presque Isle, Pennsylvania. So a caravan of family and friends drive down every few weeks and gamble our money, hit the slots, and the buffet, and generally leave defeated but spirited. Minister's Appeal managed at least one third place finish so far this summer. The horse is like a member of the family, and when he finished third, we hooped and hollered, and slapped high-fives, and behaved just short of popping a champagne bottle and filling glasses. Any passer-byes would have thought we hit the jackpot, or were having a collective nervous breakdown.

My new landlord is a ghost hunter. He is the son of my previous landlord who died recently. I groaned when he asked me if I still sell records on eBay, because he has some records he's thinking of selling and he'll split the profits with me. I'm like, poor misguided fool. I was forced to explain vinyl records, in and of themselves, are of little value and only a small handful are significantly desired. I get this from people. They think because a record or book is old it is therefore valuable. Old books and records may be rare, but they are rarely valuable. He's like, well I think what I got is pretty collectible, and he hands me a mint copy of The Beatles' White Album in pure white color vinyl with the accompanying pristine poster, (He unfortunately didn't have the four pin-up pics that also came with this edition of the album). He says he only played it once when it first came out just to tape it. I played it and it is beautiful. Now I'm like, fighting saliva drippings, can I see the rest of your record collection?

In exchanging emails, his was suggestive of ghost-hunting, and I found out he is a committed ghost chaser, and an expert in evp, (electronic voice phenomena), with a fantastic web page.

I read LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel, a wonderful book about a god-loving boy from India who finds himself aboard a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a wild Bengal tiger. Think Moby Dick meets Curious George. It was perfect summer reading.

Some years ago a friend asked me to give him a ride to The Chautauqua County Fair. He had some things he wanted to enter into competition. I'm thinking, is he going to put a live goat in my back seat? Maybe a prize winning potato? The world's largest squash? Instead he packed my back seat with boxes and boxes of assorted stuff; old war posters, a collection of beer bottles, a Catholic bronze holy water container, ... delectable, precious junk. He was entering them into competition as antiques and collectibles in The Chautauqua County Fair. I didn't know you could enter anything but pigs and such in the county fair. When the fair was over I gave him a ride to pick up his junk,, entries, and he walked off with all these blue, red and yellow ribbons and a modest bank check for his efforts.

Hell, I got junk. I have a signed leather-bound first edition of a Joyce Carol Oates novel. I have my father's old fishing poles. I have old bottles I unearthed out of my garden. I have an attic of things I've collected over the years. Am I to understand someone would pay me for possessing these things, things that mostly, I couldn't pay someone to take from me?

So there I am the following year, picking up my blue, red and yellow ribbons, and of course, the bank check, for my winning entries. Me and my friend Karl, have a friendly competition every year, finding ourselves competing in some of the same hundreds of categories. He doesn't realize deep in my heart, I'd kill to win. In no time, my Remington western print won 'the blue' in the Print category, ( his second place commemorative 1812 war poster paled in comparison). My 1915 nursery rhyme book blew the others out of the water in the Antique Children's Book category. My Jackson 5 Greatest Hits Picture Disc LP dominated and simply frowned upon the others in the Item from The Seventies category ...

Apache Ambush by Frederick Remington. 'The Blue'!

And now I have a box in the attic somewhere full of blue, red and yellow ribbons. And I'm a county fair buff. You can find me watching the pig competition muttering to myself that pig number three was clearly the better pig. Standing outside a locked barn asking security when the tractor museum opens. I go to the quaint and innocent Chautauqua County Fair harness horse race every year, and the first year I went, dumb cluck that I am, I asked a Norman Rockwell-ish group of horse people where one bets on the harness race. I learned one does not bet on the county fair harness race. I thought they were going to drag me somewhere and lynch me.

I had county fair fever. I became very competitive. I was scouring my apartment for anything that might produce a blue ribbon. I was envying the farmers with their prized sheep, cows and corn, truly worthy of the great county fair ribbons. Ridiculous thoughts like, do I dare try and bake a blueberry pie? How do you go about raising rabbits? Is the cereal bowl I'm eating from made before 1940, and if so, is there a Best Cereal Bowl category? No, but there is a Buffalo China category which that very cereal bowl won a blue ribbon!

The red and yellow ribbons, (2nd and 3rd Place) were nice but the blue was the gold. One year the judges gave me only an honorable mention for an entry. I could have scowled in their faces, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That is a one-of-a-kind Roy Rogers comic book with allegedly Trigger's hoof print on the back cover!".

One year, on a whim, on the day I was to enter my stuff, I took a flowering plant out of my crude and simple garden which is out the door of my apartment, and I asked it, are you worth a blue ribbon? It was a purple shamrock which happened to bloom beautifully that year. With my eye on the prize I entered it into the more traditional category of of horticulture. On opening day I went to the fair to check my entries, (read: count my blue ribbons), and my flower was adorned with a gold medal, three ribbons of blue, red and yellow and a banner streamed across it - BEST OF SHOW. I won the frickin' Academy Award of county fair ribbons!!!

I'm jaded, man. I reached the pinnacle. I am an urban cowboy. I'm doing the Rocky punch at the top of the stairs at City Hall. There wasn't a farmer in all of Chautauqua County with a better rose than my shamrock.

So I merely started to mention this Saturday is the day I enter my stuff in the fair. I'm actually finally depleted of blue ribbon quality stuff to enter. I have some sage in the garden which looks like common sage to me, but what do I know about blue ribbon quality sage? I'll enter my few meager offerings if for no other reason than to see which farmer has the best goat. I get a free fair pass just for entering. I'll hook up with Karl and hopefully we'll find ourselves standing in line at the close of the fair, picking up our checks for the winning entries. Several competitors refuse the check and donate it back to the fair, but not me and Karl. We snatch those checks up and hit the beer tent, and boast nostalgia of blue ribbon victory.

As I'm writing this I got a call that I have a role in a play I auditioned for. I don't know if that ends the summer or begins it.

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