And so the rain pours down outside this gentle libary in which I type, more by feel than sight, in front of a screen that throbs and pulses quesily, an unclear mesh of half formed characters and bright colours. I close one eye in order to focus on the errors I just typed, then unclose, because the other sarts to dry quickly, causing stabbing pains and more confusion than is needed at this juncture. No I am not on drugs, dear reader. Drugs are for children and pensioners. I am just half blind again. Is all.
Low as I was, I was not expecting the intense and pathetic dose of poor fortune that accosted me last night. I know I wrote a few weeks ago of The Balance - for every bad a good... but I wasn't expecting to be assaulted by that force with such relentless ferocity. Ho hum.
See, I was initially going to hitch back to New York from Shandaken today. I have just under ten dollars, and the bus is $29, or thereabouts. But then the guy who's renting us this big old dusty stone house up this lonely mountain rang and said he was driving that way, should anyone want a lift. And I did. He said he'd be round later, but, at seven or so, halfway through a particularly sdurreal episode of The Simpsons (rendered nigh on unwatchable thanks to Fox's freakish ad frequency) he called to say he was ready to depart, but I'd have to make my own way to where he was, which was Woodstock. Since there are no buses after 6pm around these parts, I figured the only way was to hitch. I used to hitch a fair bit in my youth, back in North Wales, where the terrain was similar and so was the frequency of the public transport. And my financial means.
So hitch I did. Out onto the open road I headed, dragging behind me my life in a granny cart, trundle trundle, left arm peaking with an angled thumb, and ten or so minutes into my stride, a kindly old gent pulled over and offered me a lift as far as Fenechia, a few miles down the road. He said he used to be a ballet dancer. And upon being dropped in Fanechia, I wandred a further twenty minutes or so, before being picked up by some hippies. Sadly, the hippes were only going another mile in the direction I was, and dropped me at a sharp turning that said , "Woodstock 14 Miles". I wandered up that turning, which soon became a pitch black and narrow old windy road, much like those back in the Wales of my youth, and was soon overcome with a familiar feeling. A sickness in the belly spread as I wandered this funny lane, and day became night. I passed abandoned old shacks, upon the porches of which lay torn furniture, brokebn electricals, sodden shirts. I came acros a gang of little hick local children, who looked straight out of Deliverance, and tried to give me trouble. There was a small scuffle, some words exchanged. I think my englishness ended up going in my favour, as did some assumed feigned bravado and insolence.
So. Some time later, it now was, and I'd been walking for a long time now. I didn't know how long. I had not a watch, a phone, none of that. The road was black and I could hear nothing over the rumble of my granny cart. No cars came. Houses were few, and lights infrequent. Bugs feasted on my bare shoulders. Rain dribbled between the trees, that towered on either side of the knackered old road, pointing into the night sky like spears. My trainers tore into my sockless feet mercilessly. A single car passed, and did not slow down.
Later I saw a little light, a welcome sight to me. I had passed one pain barrier, and was now into another kind of barrier. I was talking to myself, cursing, grunting, offering occasional cries into the night. And I saw this light. Blinking. And closer it came. And then I saw it was a roadblock, and I was ovrcome with despair.
So no wonder there had been no cars to give me lifts. The road was blocked. I fell to my knees. And shouted something into the trees. And then I saw another light. A little house. It looked cosy. The windows a mesh of bug-keep-awayer. I knocked on the door. A portly bearded old man answere, and told me the roadblock was nothing to worry about, but to keep to the right, as they were digging up the left side of the road. I used his phone to try and ring Shandaken, to get Gerard who was giving me the lift's number. I had been andering many, many hours. Woodstock, I was told, was another eight miles. "Downhill, mind, if that's a comfort!"
But the line was engaged, with that primitive dial up that's been plagueing everybody. So I headed back out into the night, throguh the barrier. Over gravel, I felt my way through the blackness.
And a squelch.
A wet foot.
A tumbling of rocks, a fall, a sharp pain, a deep wetness.
And me in a big sludgy hole, with stones and wet gravel slapping the back of my head.
Keep to the right my fucking ARSE!
And clambered out. Temporarily losing a shoe.
But out I got. And on I trudged.
After a while, there were a few cars. One, then two, did not slow, laughed in my pitiful face, calling stuff I could not quite catch out of their windows. The rain was falling harder now, and I, sweating trickles of salt water, was thankfull. Then another car. It slowed down. Nearly stopped. A great big silly grin broke out across my wet red bug assaulted face.
Cackles of laughter, the screetch of rubber on loose road, and the car was gone, and so too my hopes for a lift on this ugly black night. I called out into that blackness, laughed bitterly, licked a splash of sweat off my arm, tasting salt and bug, and soldiered onward, downhill, into the black.
At one point I stumbled, and fell down a little hill on the side of the road, and tumbled into a stream. There I lay a little while, scooping up water in my hands and pouring it over my head, down my throat, praising nature for her bounty. A while I lay, listeneing to the night, a welcome respite from the dull roar of the granny cart. And then I up and on, on, on, on, for a long, long time.
Dogs chased me a little later. Big ol' dogs. Where the energy came from I know not, spent as I felt, but I hoofed that great granny cart up in my arms and sprinted down the mountain, big barking beasts behind me. I ran a good while, until I was sure I was alone again, alone with the crickets and the hungry bugs that I batted off my wet shoulders. And I later came upon the little town of... Bearsville? Bear something. A man told me I was two miles from Woodstock. My heart soared.
That last stretch was easy. I was limping now, feet bloody stumps angled inward to avoid further damage, granny cart rumbling, belching, bouncing along, eyes so wide the left contact popped out, three weeks old, into the air... sweat pouring, veins bulging, I near flew down that road, that final stretch. And in no time, I saw the big blue house, my detination, my goal, and fell to the ground in front of it, panting, grinning, sticky and spent.
I rapped on the door. And waited.
Dude's big American truck was gone, I realised.
I tried the door. And it opened. And there lay a note for me, explaining that he'd been able to wait no longer, and there was a matress and blankets for me, and to get some sleep. I fumbled about in the dark of this foreign home, unable to find the light swicth, but eventually happening upon the phone. I rang Shandaken, and James anwered, and said it was nearly midnight, and Spiky and Amy had been out in the car looking for me for hours.
I found a light. I peeled off my trainers, and saw bloodied, and somehow bitten feet, arms and shoulders thick with similarly huge bites, their surface yellow and red and bubbling. I washed in the sink, and fell into the matress, and today I awoke in a strange place with the rain falling outside, and rethought my plans.