East to West


Eleanor Roosevelt has one white rose on the desk she doesn’t use anymore, because she is dead.

My mother and I sat in the reconstructed saloon of a German family.  Her grandfather had taken his salooning skills all the way to Nebraska, others had stopped short of that.  Others had lived in Germantown, in New York City.  That’s far enough.  Germans took their whole family to the bar.  Everyone ate, the children drank kinder beer.  They brought in kegs, the wife made sausages and bread, everyone ate.

This was illegal: it was illegal for bars to be open on Sundays, although it was the only day people had off, the only day they could go to a bar.  There was a complicated system of it being illegal but okay.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s front door has a patch of stained glass in the center.  No one knows what it means.  I thought: Joseph leading Mary on a donkey, to Egypt.  Why did I think that?  They could have been going to Bethlehem, or it could be some other scene, entirely.  The Parks service, the historians, do not know what it is, or where it came from.

Our tour guide told us the Roosevelt historic site recently went through training on LGBTQ issues and what we know of Ms Roosevelt.

Another tour guide told us the ceiling is falling in, a little, in FDR’s childhood home, and the current and threatened funding cuts to the National Parks Service were threatening their ability to keep the site safe for future generations.

At the Morgan Library, we peered at J.P. Morgan’s Gutenberg Bible, and J.P. Morgan’s cicada brooches, made by Goths, around the year 500.  Cicadas disappear, seem dead and gone, but revive.

I saw the freak show at Coney Island.  It’s finally back.  “Three dollars,”the lady said, in front of the tent.  It was starting to rain.

I paid.  Cases on sawhorses, typed signs, dusty skeletons, taxidermy.  Then a lady who did that hollow-bottle-mix-up trick, halfheartedly.  More heartedly, she swallowed various swords for us.  I tipped her and she gave me a copy of her comic, which I began to read on the subway, and dissolved out of.

In Poughkeepsie, New York, we sat in the downstairs bar of an Italian restaurant, returning me to my vow to eat in a local Italian place everywhere I go.  A family, the family of our waitress, talked loudly and laughed.  “How long has this place been here?” I asked the waitress.

“Oh, a long time,” she said.  “Like ten years.”

I drank a glass of wine from a glass the size of my head and ate their specialty pizza.

A small child was put on the floor to practice walking.  All the child’s adults danced to “Friends in Low Places,” and looked hard at the child to make her dance, too.  She just looked back at them, confused.

“That’s a bad hotel,” our driver told us.  “Everyone there is on welfare.  And there is something in the air conditioner that stinks, like mold.  Everyone who goes there comes out smelling like that, it’s terrible.”

In the cab to the airport, to leave New York, our driver turned around several times, looking curious.  I don’t think he had enough English to ask what that sound was.
“Cat,” I said.  “I have a cat.”  My cat, in the carrier, was bitching and moaning as she usually does.

“Oh!” he said.  “Scared me!”

We were able to ascertain he had a dog, but not a cat.

He asked, “Where you going?”

“Kansas City,” I said.  “In the middle.  In the middle of the United States.  In the middle of America.”


“Where are you from?”


“What part?”

“South,” he said.

It seemed impolite to inquire further, as his English was a struggle.  It took us a while to figure out he was saying, “What terminal?”  Terminal B.

In Poughkeepsie, they have a long railroad bridge that has been turned into a pedestrian bridge.  The thing to do is just to walk it.  We didn’t.  I wrapped up my work, and packed my enormous summer visit bags, and went west.

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