New York. The only state in the union where I have ever had a mailing address, and one which has as its motto the Latin word “Excelsior.” This translates, roughly, as “We only begrudgingly admit that there are 49 other states.” We couldn’t name our state after what it is most known for because dyslexic people would think they were in Texas. [Ed. Note – 50 bonus points if you get that one.] Most of the Republicans who live here think our governor, the honorable Andrew Cuomo, is either insane or if not Satan, certainly a close relative. Before we go any further I, as a Democrat would like to set the record straight on this point: Satan is Andrew Cuomo’s 3rd-great uncle, and that’s really not that close in genealogical terms. I’d like to leave a stronger endorsement, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em.
My state takes a lot of crap, and, often, it’s justified. And by often I mean, of course, always.
I’m joking, mostly. New York is not nearly as horrible as most people who live here will tell you it is. And it’s way better than most everyone else would have you think. Most of our bad reputation comes from the place shown here. New York City. It’s a cesspool, a modern-day pirate haven, populated almost completely by criminals, with the remainder being illegal immigrants.
Well, that’s wrong as well. New York City is one of the cultural treasures of the world AND … I was born there. Either of those things should have won you over, but I’m not here to be an NYC apologist.
I make my home in upstate New York. Lots of cool people do, although I am not allowed to name any of them. I can name some folks who are from here and had the good sense to get out, but with the exception of Bobcat Goldthwait, Lucille Ball, Joe Bonamassa, Breanna Stewart and Richard Gere I’m too embarrassed. [Cough – Tom Cruise – Cough].
Today my wife and I took a day trip. We traveled south to Ithaca. In case that sounds familiar, it is the location of Le Cafe Cent-Dix. Oh! And Cornell University. They also have a pretty popular farmer’s market, which was our actual destination, as you can see from my Instagram post done prior to leaving.
Well, by golly, we went and it was terrific.
As you can see they did a fine job of maintaining social distancing, and everyone was wearing their masks, (they even had some available if you needed one). We waited a bit before getting into the pavilion, but it was a lovely day and we were in before we knew it.
My favorite part was the artisans, but that’s no surprise. The veggies were lovely as well, and there was someone selling pies who, based simply on the pies she had on display, I will be writing in as my selection for the president of the United States of America. At least ONE of my votes, right Donny? [Ed Note: Wink-wink, nudge-nudge]
Ultimately we did the circuit and left. The line of people waiting to get in was way longer than when we came in, and they had signs posted asking you to exit once you’ve completed your purchases, which we for us took the form of this bottle of blueberry wine. As you can see it is quite lovely although it’s chilling now and I don’t think it will be with us long. We left within minutes because we got it at the second or third table to the last and because I figured the sooner we left the sooner we could get this baby cooling down. (And everyone says my wife is the practical one.)
So, yes. It was lovely. But we were done much sooner than we’d expected to be, so we decided to drive to a nearby state park. I checked the ever eager to please interweb and found that we were less than five miles from Robert H. Treman State Park. Yet again, Covid-19 reared its ugly head. By the time we traversed that short distance the park had reached capacity and the entrance was closed.
We kept driving. A very short time we began seeing signs for Elmira. Kim said, “Go online and see what there is to do in Elmira.” Knowing the internet actually likes it if you keep asking it questions, I jumped right on, because off the top of my head the only thing I could remember there being in Elmira was a maximum security state prison, and nothing fun generally happens there on a Sunday.
I must tell you, my most beloved friends, of my shame. I must confess to you mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
For I had completely forgotten that Elmira, N.Y. is also the final resting place of a guy named Sam Clemens. You may remember I’ve mentioned him before, calling him my Spirit Writing Guide. The Google told me that visiting his grave with the 6th most interesting thing to do in Elmira.
And so I did what any good man would. I turned to my wife and I lied, saying, “The only thing to do in Elmira is visit Mark Twain’s grave. Other than that nothing. I don’t think there’s any people in the buildings there.”
Now clearly she is too smart to fall for that, but she also loves me and she said okay.
Mr. Clemens is, I am 100% sure, a far bigger deal in Elmira today then when they buried his cremains in 1910. I’m sure his wife’s family thought he was swell, and his neighbors when he summered there no doubt found him delightful.
But in 2020 his name and/or likeness appears, by municipal law, every 12 feet. Two fathoms, mark twain. In some ways this is a little blecch. It has always felt to me that once the scale tips from adoration to exploitation it’s no longer a warm fuzzoid, but that’s me.
And, in this instance, in spite of my righteous indignation, it worked to our benefit, for as we approached the last turn, a right by Siri’s suggestion, we noticed a sign with the very unambiguous phrase “Mark Twain Grave Site.” With his picture. It was not a the one I shared above. The sign said for us to go left. I thanked Siri for her unflagging enthusiam, and gave her the next hour off, as we followed the signs.
The cemetery which is the final destination for my writing spirit guide is named Woodlawn National Cemetery. Any graveyard with the word “National” such as the most famous, Arlington, will have at least a section that looks like this:
I have only this to say about these stones arrayed in stark symmetry, each one marking the resting place of a person who served in the armed forces: How wonderful would it be if there were no need for National Cemeteries.
Eventually, following the signs, we arrived at the plot of his wife’s family, the Langdons. Great folks, letting Sam hang out with them all this time.
It is traditional to leave a gift when you visit. Most people, (like me), left change, in my case a penny. a couple left a small stone, and one genius left the only thing Twain would have enjoyed, the cheroot that sits just above my birthday, which as I’ve mentioned, occurred fifty years to the day after the late lamented Sam checked out for good. I’m actually happy for that fifty year differential as my alibi vis-à-vis his demise is pretty much iron clad.
I’m also now very clear on why there is a coin shortage. It’s freakin’ Twain!
Obviously I’m joking around quite a bit about this, but I hope you all realize that I was very aware of the weight of the moment. Listen. I get that when we stand at someone’s grave, they’re not there. In Mark Twain’s case all the more so, in that they buried his ashes. I don’t think anyone will disagree that what made the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer special was not the bone dust in the ground beneath my feet.
But it was still amazingly solemn. Because it wasn’t him, but his elemental components where there. I was telling him that while I don’t presume to be worthy, and though it took my fifty years to get to the planet, at the very least the mischief is strong in me as well.
All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry FinnErnest Hemingway
After sitting in our car, parked just beyond the Langdon plot, in front of the Arnot family, who had no visitors while we were there, (only one other couple came to visit Samuel while we were there – it’s a quiet neighborhood), we decided to head home.
The GPS gave us a choice of three routes back to Baldwinsville, and I picked the one that ran along the western shore of Cayuga Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, which many of you may recognize as being a producer of some excellent wines, another good thing about New York. So there.
At first the satellite was messing with us, because it kept suggesting that we crash through a couple of closed gates, and in one instance right through the fence. We took almost as long to get out of the cemetery as we spent visiting, but eventually we found our way back to the gate we came in. Once we hit a real street everything was groovy, but it got dicey for a while, especially when we realized the prison was bordered on one side – by Woodlawn Cemetery. It is maximum security, and I’m proud to report there were no incidents.
To close out my tale of New York’s splendor, let me just list a few of the places we passed through. After leaving Elmira we eventually passed through Seneca Falls, which is the birthplace of the women’s rights movement, then proceeded through the Montezuma Nature Wildlife Refuge. I did not see any of the refugees, but I did see several eagles’ nests which were easily as big as my office. Those are both pretty big deals, even though my friends from Fordham University still insist that nothing important happens upstate, which they consider to begin as soon as you’re north of Yonkers.
And if you think New York sucks, I probably haven’t changed your mind, especially if you’re also a Yankee Hater, and once again, I love ya, but you’re not going to change my mind either. Maybe just drive through the green hills, covered on a day like today with the perfect shadow outlines of clouds that hang overhead, and drive by the sheep farm where the critters are running around like my kids often did when they were small – in straight lines and for no discernible reason. Stop at a farm stand along the road, even if there’s no one minding it, because there’s a box for you to leave your money. It’s okay. They trust you.