Sometimes Connecticut is the best place. PART THREE

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On our final full day in Connecticut, we woke up early.  After eating a quick breakfast, we headed up to Mystic, Connecticut.

It was Nerd Heaven.

Our first stop was the Mystic Seaport, which is an entire complex set up as a 19th-centry seaport.  SO MANY DEMONSTRATIONS.  SO MANY COOL SHIPS TO WALK AROUND.  SO MANY COOL OLD STOREFRONTS TO WALK INTO.  SO MUCH LEARNING. 

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Neat old ship! It had a fascinating history too detailed to recount here.

I cannot stress enough how much fun it was to watch an anchor being brought up or to watch an open-sea fishing demonstration or to walk through an actual old whaling ships.  Those areas that were not equipped with actual demonstrators in them doing something (blacksmiths, coopers, most of the ships) had wonderful educational plaques and reconstructions that you could read.  And then there’s the actual thrill of walking through another world – a world without computers and cellphones and electronic navigational equipment.  A brilliant place.  Just brilliant.

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That one’s mine. That cute girl there.

On that day, we wanted to stay forever.  We, however, had bought a double ticket that gave us admission to the Mystic Aquarium as well, so we begrudgingly left the seaport and headed across town to the aquarium, which was super-fun as well.

We both had grown up with the advantage of great aquariums, but this was no less fantastic than others we’ve seen.  The most entrancing animals present were the beluga whales.  I likened them to a cross between a dolphin and a dog.  They swam like dolphins – graceful, playful, upside-down, right next to the glass to show off for the kids – but there was something more (less?) there than you see in dolphins.  It was almost an openness, a simpler way of looking at things.  I know they’re not as intelligent as dolphins, so perhaps it was really just the lesser intelligence I was seeing.  But it was still charming to watch and something that I had never seen up close.

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Clarification: we saw actual beluga whales as well as plastic ones.

My one point of contention with the aquarium was the touch tank.  UGH.  I cannot abide by families (read: parents) who have no awareness of others around them. 

Yes, Ma’am – my girlfriend and I are standing right behind your child, waiting for a turn to touch the sting rays.  Yes, you’ve been there for ten minutes on your phone and your kid hasn’t even tried to put his hand in the water once since you first plopped him down there.  Yes, every other person around the tank is doing the same thing, i.e. – not paying attention to anyone but themselves.

After an extended wait, however, we managed to steal a spot and touch the ray.  After we did so, we left to make way for others who wanted to do the same.  How hard was that??

We ate dinner at a charming little place and made plans to come back the next day.

Which we did.

After a harrowing laundry experience the next morning (we may have overestimated the drying power of the standard Maytag), we loaded up the car and left our little house in Fairfield.  Then we drove right back up to Mystic Seaport.

After all, there was so much we didn’t do the first time!  The planetarium, the hauling up of the anchor, the exhibit on figureheads, the small boat museum!  We strolled the grounds a second time (AND STILL DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO DO EVERYTHING) and realized we had to head back home.

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The drive back was lovely as we listened to showtunes, refreshed from our New England vacay.

We dropped off the rental car and greeted our cat with open arms.
We were home.

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Sometimes Connecticut is the best place. PART TWO

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We awoke with a wandering song singing in our hearts (Or something like that).  Vacation Day number two was our traveling day, and travel we certainly did.

Setting out early in the morning, we drove northward to Gillette Castle State Park, which is somewhere in between East Haddam and Old Lyme.  Here we purchased admission to the park’s main attraction, Gillette Castle.

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In 1914, William Gillette, the actor most famous for being the first Sherlock Holmes, built a huge frickin’ castle.  Out of stone.  He custom-made all the doors in the thing.  He created a secret passageway where he could spy on guests to decide if he wanted to come down to greet them.  He created a trick bar that only he knew how to open.  And he built a train.  And a railroad station.  And a track.  Just for fun.  He was a really cool, funny, fun dude.

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After eating lunch on the edge of a swamp (much prettier than you’re envisioning right now in your heads), we set off in search of more fun.  It wasn’t more than a half-hour before we stumbled upon The Goodspeed Opera House.  Of course, I said.  This is where it is!  I’ve never been.  Nor have I, said Becca.

On a whim, we thought we’d see if there were any seats left for that evening’s performance of “Hello, Dolly!”  Lo and behold, there were!  With a quick swipe of the Visa, we were the proud occupants of balcony seats.  Serendipity.  Sometimes you drive past a regional theater and just pop in for a show.  It happens.

With the afternoon still free, we drove into Hartford to the Mark Twain House.  Right next door?  The Harriet Beecher Stowe House!  Why tour one when you can tour both?  On that beautiful afternoon, we saw where two of the century’s pre-eminent authors wrote some of their best work.  We saw the actual desk where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn sprang to life.  Pretty neat, if I do say so myself.

But we musn’t tarry too long, we said.  We found – again, thanks to Siri – a nice little Mexican restaurant on the way back to East Haddam where we satiated our appetites.  Then, with a quick trip to an ice cream parlor, we were set to see some theatre!

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The Goodspeed Opera House, for those of you who haven’t been, is lovely.  Gorgeous architecture and a really neat history.  The production featured the Australian Tony Sheldon as Horace Vandergelder, whom you may recall from his Tony-nominated performance in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”  After living in NYC and watching productions with such a jaded eye, it was glorious to be in a theater with hundreds of people who came in that night specifically to enjoy themselves and who succeeded marvelously.  A riotous good time.

Pooped from another long day, we made our way back to the house in Fairfield.

The next day was BEACH DAY (Take Two).  There’s not much to say about Beach Day except that it was perfect.  The weather was perfect – sunny and warm, but with a nice little breeze every now and then.  The beach was perfect – not too crowded, but not awkwardly vacant, either.  The water was perfect – the ocean was cool and refreshing and not as dirty as the more populated commercial beaches.  We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.  After a lobster roll for Becca and a chicken sandwich for me, we even squeezed in another movie.

Sunburnt and happy, we prepared ourselves for our next and last day of vacation, which was better than either of us could have dreamed.

Stay tuned for PART THREE, the final exciting chapter in the amazing Connecticut vacation!

Sometimes Connecticut is the best place. PART ONE

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After a crazy busy summer filled with a massive overhaul of my novel for my agent, house managing a sold-out run of an Off-Broadway show, and spending three weeks playing war for Army, a vacation was in order. 

An acquaintance of my gal Becca just bought a house in Fairfield, CT right by the beach and was going to be out of town for the month of August.  Take it, she said.  Use my beach pass, she said.  Have a good time, she said.  

Thank you, we said. 

So one Wednesday evening we rented a car, packed it up with our belongings, and drove north.  We knew that her son, a twenty-something who is normally off in school somewhere, was going to be present for the duration.  Oof, I said.  Human interaction.  Easy, Becca said.  It’ll be ok. 

When we arrived late that night, the son was not at home.  He had left the key under the mat for us, however.  So we grabbed our bags and went up to the door. 

We were a few feet from the front door when we heard a meow.  Suddenly, out from the bushes, springs a mangy cat.  Oh dear, I said.  Must be a stray.  Its fur was matted and scraggly and its meow was deep and scratchy.  

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This cat is more well-groomed than our Connecticut cat.

As we tried to open the door, the cat tried to go inside.  Hey there, I said.  Don’t go in there.  We shooed it away.  It didn’t move.  I walked away and called it so that Becca could at least get inside.  It didn’t move.  We set down the leftovers from our fast food dinner on the other side of the driveway.  It certainly appreciated our offering but came right back as soon as we went to open the door. 

Is it their cat, I asked.  It can’t be, Becca said.  She said nothing about a cat.  It must be a stray.  It has no collar and no tag. 

Finally we managed to get inside and slam the door in the cat’s face.  Thank goodness, we said.  Then we set about exploring the house, which was lovely.  We were offered the master bedroom on the third floor, which we gladly took.  We settled in for a good night’s sleep. 

In the middle of the night an incident occurred to which I was not privy, as I was sound asleep.  There was a knock on the door and a shadowy figure opened it up.  Hello, it said.  Becca, sleepily, responded in kind.  Did you feed the cat, it asked.  No, Becca replied.  OK, it said.  Have a good night. 

SO IT WAS THEIR CAT!  The epiphany may not be as profound as it was in person, but you get the idea.  We basically just told a cat to go screw itself because we weren’t going to let it in its own house or feed it either.  C’est la vie. 

The next day was a bit overcast, but we had already decided to do the beach.  It’s our vacation, darnit, so let’s start it off right.  After quietly taking the beach chairs from the garage (since the son’s bedroom was right across the hall from the garage), we loaded up our rental car and set off to find breakfast. 

Find it we did.  Siri, ever helpful, suggested Home On The Range, a small café in a quaint downtown area.  It had, without a doubt, the absolute best French Toast I’ve ever eaten.  The sweet little old lady that runs the place works there all by herself, taking the order, cooking up the grub, and clearing away your plates and serving as cashier when you’re through.  We would spend two more mornings savoring her wares. 

After we were stuffed, we went to the beach.  And there was nobody there.  Oh sure, there was a lap-swimmer.  And a couple strolling.  And an old man sitting on a beach chair.  But that’s it.  It was deserted.  The ominous-looking storm clouds may have had something to do with that. 

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Still, we were determined to have a good time.  Let’s not take the chairs, we said, as we may not be here long.  It’s a good thing we didn’t.  After frolicking a bit in the waves, Becca set out to carve words in the sand while I took pictures. 

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Artie plus Becca plus Rising-Tide Cat.

Then, after about ten minutes of watching the tide come in ridiculously fast, we skedaddled.  It was no more than a few seconds after we got back into our car that the clouds burst open and a monsoon began. 

What does one do on vacation in Connecticut at ten in the morning when it’s raining?  Why, go to the movies of course!  Eating popcorn and drinking soda for brunch, we sat with one other couple in a giant movie theater and watched The Butler (which I highly recommend, by the way). 

Back outside, the sky was no longer angry, but it wasn’t too happy yet, either.  What to do?  Go to the Barnum Museum, of course!  It’s so close, after all, in Bridgeport, CT.  Let us away, I said. 

Unfortunately, the Barnum Museum was hit pretty hard by a tornado a few years ago and is still not open to the public.  Sigh.  Back to the house to regroup. 

Upon arriving, we were met with a shirtless, skinny, tattoo-covered young man sitting on the front stoop smoking a cigarette.  The son, we guessed.  We guessed correctly.  After exchanging pleasantries and learning that the cat did, in fact, belong to the family, we scooted upstairs to plan our evening.

 We decided to venture north to New Haven, to The Original Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana.  It’s this amazing little pizza place for which people line up down the street to get a table.  It’s been around since 1925 in the same location and owned by the same family.  Check is out at pepespizzeria.com.  It was scrumptious.  Certainly different than our usual New York City pie, but amazing nonetheless. 

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Only slightly tipsy from the entire bottle of wine we drank, we decided then to stroll the campus of the Ivy League member Yale University.  We imagined ourselves in more scholarly pursuits than our art schools offered us.  We dreamed of singing in the Whiffenpoofs and eating in the Spoonery.  And we watched all the kids move into their dorms for the start of the semester.  None of them looked smarter than us, we decided, so we totally should have gone to Yale. 

Because Becca had never been, and because there was one right by the entrance to the highway, and because we had nothing better to do and because we were on vacation, gosh darnit, we went to IKEA.  This activity needs no greater explanation.  It was pure, unadulterated, built-it-yourself furniture bliss.  We didn’t buy anything, but boy howdy did we make some I-want lists.

Full of pizza, popcorn, French Toast, and tired from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to the house to sleep.

It was a good first day of vacation. 

Stay tuned for PART TWO in my next post!

Sometimes it’s your birthday.

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A BIRTHDAY TALE.
By ME.

It is 2013.  In the United States of America. 
He wakes up at 8:30am.  He gets out of bed, stretches, and pads to the kitchen.  He fills the cat’s bowl with food and makes himself a large glass of chocolate milk – it’s his birthday, after all.
He sits down at the table and opens up the computer.  After checking his email and the news, he types in that most popular combination of letters and presses “Enter.”  His screen becomes a mosaic of blue and white, with colorful pictures spread throughout.  Here’s his cousin at her bachelorette party.  Here’s his co-worker at Coney Island.  Here’s a Buzzfeed article from that annoying guy that he hates talking to.  And there, in the upper-right hand corner, is the World.  And it’s lit up.
His breath catches in his throat.  There’s a tiny red number there – 1.  He had expected something larger.  He licks his lips nervously.  His fingers twitch as they drum the keyboard.  Slowly and carefully, his thumb moves across the touchpad and he clicks. 
The World reveals more information, but he only looks at the number of people.  The rest is irrelevant.  He knows what the rest says.  He clicks again, bringing up a picture of him on vacation in front of a picture of a pretty sunset he once saw.  He scrolls down, past the personal information, to the messages beneath.  There they are.  In gleaming black and white, each underneath their sender’s name. 
There are so many.  And it’s only 8:30 in the morning.
He smiles.  He has passed the Test of Self-Worth set down in those sacred Laws of Social Media.  He is now free to go about his day (and, truly, his year) secure in himself and his worldly offerings.  Oh, the disappointment and shame that would accompany anything less than exemplary display of cyber affection witnessed this morn…  He is free from that torment for at least another year.
He shuts his computer and takes a swig of chocolate milk.  It’s gonna be a good day.

Sometimes you feel like a nut. Because nuts don’t have summer vacations. And neither do you.

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Remember summer vacations?

Remember that time when they were all you thought about the last few weeks of school?
Remember how, as soon as that last day of school (usually a half-day) was over, there was this enormous weight lifted off your shoulders and the world literally felt different?  The smells were different, the sounds were different, the feel of the sun on your skin was completely different than the sun on your skin the day before.

Remember how you would go home and wake up at your leisure for three months?  And, even if you didn’t, it was because you were going to band camp, or Boy Scout camp, or basketball camp, or generic summer camp, or some other kind of definitely-more-fun-than-staying-at-home camp.  Or getting up early to fly or drive to a vacation destination.  Or just because you could, because it was summer and you could do whatever the heck you wanted.

Remember how you would go to the beach and it would be completely packed with everybody else in the world on summer vacation?  And how it didn’t matter, because that was the only time the kids were out of school, so it wasn’t as annoying as it should have been?

Remember how you felt like you were doing something wrong when you went to a store or a restaurant in the middle of a weekday?  And how you kept waiting for someone to ask you why you weren’t in school?  And how it felt really really really good to be doing that something wrong?

Remember those days in the middle of the summer when you were bored out of your mind because you had absolutely no idea what to do?  That was when I started to employ my younger brothers to lip-sync along to musical soundtracks as I filmed them on the trampoline.  But that’s another weblog post…

Remember how, after that mid-point, you realized that summer was already halfway over and you didn’t do a fraction of what you wanted to?  So you put on your gettin’-stuff-done cap and you packed as much fun as you could in that last month.  This, unfortunately, contributed to the old adage “Time flies when you’re having fun,” so the summer was over long before you were ready for it.

Back-to-school shopping was fun, don’t get me wrong, but it was always the last vestige of a dying way of life, and the stress of a new school year with new teachers and new classes and new responsibilities and new things you have to do loomed out there on the horizon.

Remember how that last day of summer before you went back to school was a complete blur?  How you could never quite remember what happened, because your mind was clouded with so many different thoughts and feelings?

And then remember that first day of school, when you were at once excited to be doing something new but still mourning the death of those three lovely months of nothingness?

I miss that.

These days, my summer vacations are haphazardly thrown together and stuck in all over the calendar.  I took a week in the winter, I take a day or two here and there, I have these weeks off so I do some stuff there…  Gone are the days of a large time-frame given to me to use exclusively for vacationing.  In that respect, I envy those who work in the field of education.

Still, I always seem to make it work, even if it’s rushed and slapdash.  Unfortunately, summer now resembles the rest of the year.  It smells the same, it sounds the same, and that sun feels exactly the same as it did before.  The magic of it has disappeared a little.

I think, as adults, we need to strive to get that magic back.  And that’s my summer resolution.  🙂

What’s yours?

 

(Also, I’ve used the word “magic” in A LOT of my posts…  What’s up with that???)