Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some random stuff mostly about here in Georgia.

Some random thoughts…
It’s a small wonder that things are the way they are in Georgia. The state brings in oodles and oodles of money through the oodles and oodles of Georgia Lottery games and tickets, cash that is earmarked for the educational coffers. Yet, the state continues to flounder in the bottom rankings nationwide when it comes to education, and teachers’ salaries. Low paying jobs and poor academics are a result. Where exactly is the money going? Some accountability might be nice, people!
Then comes this week’s election. As the late folk singer Phil Ochs once sang, back in 1969, “It was a used car dealer’s election and the choice was rather small.” Man alive! What the heck was that all about? I swear I almost heard campaign ads saying, “Candidate A is less corrupt than Candidate B, and thus deserves your vote!” It is indeed a sorry state of affairs and the future looks to be just more of the same. While I recognize that there seems to be a determined effort by the southern states to maintain a separate sense of identity, all of this rebellion against “Obamacare,” a “coulda been better but at least it’s a step in the right direction” law that was passed to at least ensure that some form of health insurance is available to all Americans, is counter-productive. Unless someone has a better idea of something that works and is practicable, (Actually Medicaid for all fits that bill, but it takes the blessed insurance companies out of the blessed equation, so it’s a no-go there) then all this swimming against the tide is going to do is make everybody tired.
Locally, nothing much has changed. We can now begin to put the final nail in the coffin of the Wal-Mart or no Wal-Mart discussion, since one is opening soon in Locust Grove, barely five miles from the Butts County line. It actually seems to be the smartest move for that company, since they’ll get spillover customers from Tanger Outlets and the other stores in that area, including a lot of traffic that stops by from Interstate 75. It doesn’t help Butts County much, but will offer some employment opportunities for those ambitious enough to drive the whole fifteen minute drive from Jackson.
Finally, I have to question some strange police behavior that I witnessed last week in the Third Street area near Bank of America, and near my own place of business. It was late afternoon, and a Georgia State Trooper, in one of those blue and orange sporty little numbers, was zooming out of the BOA lot with lights a’blazing. Five times I counted him blasting through the late day traffic and pulling vehicles over. After the fourth time in a half hour I hopped in my car and took Second Street down to Covington Street, where he had pulled over his latest victim in the United Bank parking lot. I pulled into the sandwich shop lot across the street and watched. He was talking to the driver and then left without ticketing him. Afterwards that driver pulled into the sandwich shop lot next to me so I inquired as to why he was pulled over. He told me that it was because his windows were, according to the officer, tinted too darkly, a charge he disputed.
The reason I question this police behavior is because with all of the crime that goes on in other areas and on the interstate, and because we have two very visible and constantly present police departments here in Jackson, it seems to be a big waste of taxpayer money for a state trooper to be killing time worrying about tinted windows, especially when he wasn’t issuing tickets. Better use of taxpayers’ money, especially in this day and age, is encouraged.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eat healthy, Play Harder, Live Longer

One of my first columns addressed the issue of physical fitness, something that seems to be lacking in a disturbingly large segment of the population, not only nationally but on a local level especially. It’s an issue worth revisiting, especially in light of a chance encounter that I had today at Fitness USA, where I work out most days about 90 minutes.
My workout consists of mainly the elliptical machine, a torture device if ever there was one. There are three of them in the gym and I usually use the first one, but this day it was occupied so I took the middle one. I glanced over at my neighbor, a man I figured to be roughly my age (50) that I see occasionally at the gym. I saw that he had been on the machine for about 25 minutes and was already nearing three miles, which is tremendous. I got started and tried to keep pace with him, but it was a huge struggle, and I am a longtime user of those machines. When his time was almost up, I looked at his numbers and congratulated him on his workout. That was when he informed me that that he had just turned 70 years of age, and that he usually aimed for seven miles in 70 minutes, the maximum time the machine allows. I’ve done the elliptical for two years and I’ve only been able to make it to seven miles twice, and just barely when I did. I told him he should be good for another fifty years at least. He shrugged that off and said that he needed to eat better to maximize his health. We talked a bit and he finished—made his seven miles with a few seconds to spare—and left. I soldiered on for another 30 minutes, all the while thinking about what he had said about eating better.
I’ve been conscious of diet for a while now and have noticed something as I make the rounds of grocery stores and gas stations locally---almost everything on the shelves is so loaded with crap that it’s not worth eating. All of the potato chips, candy, pastries, soda, processed meats, the fast food in every one of those places with a drive through window, etc. are poison, people. Look at the ingredient labels of everything you buy. Odds are that they will include high fructose corn syrup, a cheap sweetener that has been proven to trick your body into feeling like you are still hungry, so you eat more. Soda is full of the stuff, as well as caffeine, which is, as we all know, terribly addictive. Caffeine in its pure state is awful tasting stuff, so the decision to add it to soda couldn’t have been for flavor enhancement. Think maybe, just maybe, we’ve all been tricked into an addiction by clever advertising and an addictive chemical? Oh, no, those billion dollar soda companies wouldn’t do that, would they???
Those labels will also include other things almost as bad, and yet we just eat them and suffer the consequences later. It’s time to take action, on an individual level as well as a personal level. While it’s fine to enjoy a barbecue once in a while, there are a lot of folks in this country who enjoy a barbecue every day, and as I watch them waddle and jiggle down the sidewalks of this and other towns, huffing and puffing, I envision their overworked hearts, surrounded by masses of gross, yellow fat, ready to give out. How is this country going to compete in the global market if we all drop dead from obesity before we get to finish college?
Each week I read the obituaries and note how young so many of the deceased were when they passed. I know for certain one name I won’t see there anytime soon: Charlie Holloway, retired military man, who I chanced to meet at the gym today, and who inspired me to hit 7.1 miles for the first time ever. Mr. Holloway, I salute you!

Friday, October 15, 2010

What I Don't Like About Georgia ,Part one

Several months ago a caller to Hello, Butts County left a message saying that it sounded like I don’t like the way things are in Georgia, and that everyone should chip in and buy me a one way ticket to Europe. I’m still waiting for that ticket.
As for how I feel about the way things are done in Georgia, the caller was absolutely correct. While I obviously like the state of Georgia (I do live here and make a living here) I don’t like a lot of what I see here. I see a state with a lot of problems in critical areas. In the “Smartest State “ nationwide rankings, Georgia comes in at a shameful 41st, joining several other southern states in the bottom ten. In the Forbes Magazine’s rankings of healthiest states, Georgia does even worse, coming in at number 43. So in health and education, it ain’t a pretty picture, folks. Can you begin to understand why I don’t like what I see in Georgia?
Did you know that Medicaid, a federal program regulated by the states, is only available in Georgia to people who make less than $14,000 annually? In Vermont, you can make as much as $42,000 and still qualify for Medicaid. This disparity is mostly because of the people you elect. The ones you keep electing in a rotation, year after year. They do the very best they can to represent themselves while the ship of state, with all its passengers, goes floundering around, lost at sea. They just do not care about your basic well-being. Another reason I don’t like the way things are done in Georgia.
As for education and all that follows: It’s a form of child abuse to shove kids through the school system, (a school system that should be one of the best based on the amount of money pumped into it by the state lottery) and then turn them loose with nothing to offer them. They emerge, blinking in the sunlight, with a sub-par education and are left to fend for themselves. The percentage of college bound high school graduates is low and the percentage of those who do go to college and don’t finish is abysmal, about 40 percent, or close to half. With an unemployment rate of ten percent, they end up doing menial tasks or take up a life of crime. I’m not sure that there is any relevance but a quick note here: a friend of mine moved to the Atlanta area. He has been here a few years now and recently told me that he can’t believe how senseless and violent the crime here is compared to where he is from. He is from the BRONX! Home of violent crime! Is this something that Georgians can be proud of??
Speaking of “pride” there is another issue I take umbrage with: the Confederate flags that I see a lot of people flying or stuck to the bumpers of their trucks. Never mind the racist insinuation of that flag in general but there is another aspect that is also disturbing. I hear a lot of Georgians calling themselves true “Americans “ while waving their Confederate flags around. Don’t they know that people who fought under that flag were traitors to the United States of America? They wanted out so bad that they made their own country. It is actually a form of treason to be flying that old rag. You can be southern and proud of it without that old relic. No real American wants to see it.
What I do want to see is the south that I heard about as a kid---hospitable and friendly, caring about each other, all sweet tea and gravy. I know it’s a fantasy but does it have to be such an impossible one?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Daze at Schrade Cutlery

My days as a bellhop at the Granit Hotel came to a sudden end one day for no good reason. Michael Hopson, one of the three owners of the hotel, would randomly fire younger staff on a whim. I recall an incident where bellhop Matt Harris, blue eyed and blonde, curly haired like myself from Napanoch, was summoned to Hopson's office to deliver an ice cream cone to him. When Matt presented the ice cream to Hopson, he did it with a flourish. Hopson, apparently without any kind of appreciation for the efforts of Matt to entertain, fired him on the spot. Later that same week I was sitting on duty on the stool at the bellhops desk when Hopson passed by. "I thought I fired you," he said. I said, No, I think you mean Matt Harris." He said, "Well, you're fired too."
Since Passover had just ended and it was very slow at the hotel, I didn't really care, so I collected my final paycheck and departed. I had been thinking about leaving anyway so it was no big deal to me, really. The very next day I went to Schrade Cutlery, located then at 30 Canal Street in Ellenville and applied for a job in the knife manufacturing business. I was accepted for a job that same day, after a brief interview. I was quickly led to my new area, given a pair of safety glasses and some gloves and give a short expanation of what I was going to be doing. I still can't believe that after all these years---32, in fact---I can recall almost everyone who worked in my department.
The supervisor was an elderly redneck kind of character named Leo Hansen, from Walden, New York. The assistant supervisor was Frank Ficsor, from Napanoch. Their job, and ours, was to take various blades and springs that were in basically almost the first stage of the process, having just been stamped out from large sheets of metal and heat treated by dipping them in molten lead pots in the department next to ours. My job was basically taking bunches of springs, which are the spine of a pocket knife, and grind them, in groups of ten, by hand, shining up one side of the spring and cutting down the amount of metal on them. Other jobs involved both hand sanding and machine cutting of both springs and blades. There were two women, Christine James and Barbara Waite, who worked all day just putting the blades and springs on pins and flattening the ends to hold them all on as a group. Eddie O'Dell was the porter whose job it was to bring finished boxes of product to the next department in the process. There were guys like Tony Garcia, Al Murdock, Jimmy Bruce, Vernon Stevens, Keith Hymes and a guy named John from Plattsburgh, New York, near where I was born. The work was hard and mostly was what is called "piecework," which meant that you got paid a certain amount for every hundred pieces you did. If a job paid seven dollars per hundred and you did two hundred in an hour then you made fourteen dollars an hour. It was always a battle to keep from making too much money because if you did it consistently you would get a visit from Beverly Buley, who would re-calculate the job and you would end up making less money per hundred. If you did that you risked making the other guys angry because it then meant that if a certain part was re-assessed too low it no longer had any appeal to them and was no longer a viable money maker. Frank Ficsor, even though he was technically management, did a remarkable job of making sure that no one got too out of hand with the money making aspects. It was acceptable to average around fifteen bucks an hour but if you got going too much more above that it would arounse suspicion and prices would go down. Frank Ficsor was a great boss, (he took over as supervisor after Leo retired, shortly after I came on board) in that he would let us get a head start on jobs, and if we did happen to have burned through several hundred pieces in an hour we could go take an extra long break outside, to let things even out a bit. The lead pot guys, mostly black, were usually outside in the sun cooling off from the heat of their department. I mention that they were black only because I am mentioning that on the side of one of their big machines they had a huge sticker that said, "THIS IS WALLACE COUNTRY" in reference to the racist Alabama governor. Funny stuff, funny guys, especially Lou Wright, who once replied to being called a spearchucker, "Hell no, I got me a rifle."
Across from our department was another one run by Bill Pomeroy, from Kerhonkson. His porter there was named Tom, and old Tom had a small and apparently side business going selling knives. To prevent theft the company made it very difficult to get one's hands on finished product. They did offer us a great price on knives but there were always some guys who still wanted to rip off the company and Tom was one of them. He's dead now and the place is out of business so I'm not getting anyone in trouble, but Tom used to sell finished knives by the handfulls to we fellow employees. He would make the rounds with his pushcart, taking orders secretly and by the end of the day you'd have your knife foe a pittance. I remember once Tom got caught by management. He was fired immediately and yet a month later was rehired because he had been there so long and knew his job so well that the company figured that the would just have him back and would keep a better eye on him.
My job was very physical. I began to notice that my fingers were becoming misshapen and hurt all the time. I spent a year and a half at Schrade. It was tough work, honest work, and as I write this all these years later it still is the toughest job Ive ever had. Were it not for the boring repetition and the fact that I was also teaching myself to be a musician as well, and my hands were becoming disfigured, I might have stayed on a little too long. I had had enough though and decided that I needed to move up in the world. I felt like I was wasting my intellect and needed to do something else. I left Schrade at the very end of 1979, after which my friends and I took a trip to Florida. When I returned in mid January, I started my first go-round at college.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Never Take Anything for Granit

A mile from my house in Kerhonkson, a hotel beckoned. The Granit. A big resort, with all kinds of buses and limousines pulling up each weekend and people walking all over the place, taking in the country air, not to mention a little abuse from local drivers who felt that the roads were only for cars, not “city Jews” as they were often known, at least in some circles. I do recall an incident where a friend of mine was driving his Jeep, open top type as two ladies were stepping gingerly along the lane he was driving in. He stopped his Jeep. “Ladies,” he said, “do you see those power lines up there?” He gestured upward with a pointed finger. With question marks on their faces as they glanced upward they said, “Yes….” And with that he raised his volume and said, loudly, as he began to pull away, “That’s where they’re going to be pulling you down from if you keep walking in the middle of the road.”
I knew the Granit Hotel fairly well. As a child I used to ice skate there and occasionally would play tennis when guests weren’t using the courts. In 1975 when Chuck Wepner was training there to fight Muhammad Ali I was there every single day after school, and got to know Wepner, who was Sylvester Stallone’s inspiration for Rocky, on a first name basis, although he tended to call me “kid” more than “Jim”.
It would be the Granit Hotel that would be the locale for my second job, working as a bellhop. Our jobs were to meet guests as they came in, carry their luggage to their rooms, make sure they were comfortable and if necessary, provide room service if they called for anything that we were able to provide.
The manager of the bellman’s desk was a man named Jim Kroot. He wore bad suits and had been in the same job at a place in NYC called the Hotel New Yorker in Hell’s Kitchen. A nice guy with a perpetually confused look, he was easygoing and clueless about what his bell hops were doing half the time. At various times they were outside smoking weed or sneaking booze from the cabanas out near the pool.
The hotel in those days was run by three families---the Cohens, (Milton and his wife, whose name escapes me,) Michael Hopson and Henry Zabatta. Mrs. Cohen was in wheelchair for unknown reasons and would often be seen tooling along through the lobby chit-chatting with guests. Bellhops and staff were generally ignored with a purpose.
I recall an incident that could have ended in disaster. Bellhops and staff were allowed to eat dinner or lunch with leftover food from the kitchen after the guests had been served. One day, I was in the bellhop’s little office eating some chicken, rather greasy. I heard the bell ring out at the desk, and ran out, looking for a napkin or towel to wipe my very greasy hands on. It was Mrs. Cohen, who said, “I am late for my hair appointment and need help getting to the salon.”
The salon was about 50 feet away, but it was down a 4 or 5 step stairway and she needed me to hold the plastic handles on the chair and lower her down to the salon level. I frantically looked for a towel but couldn’t find a single thing with which to clean my hands. And when Mrs. Cohen said, “Now” she meant it. I gave up the quest for the towel and took Mrs. Cohen’s wheelchair by the handles and guided it towards the salon. So far so good. As we reached the steps she instructed me to just tilt the chair back a bit and hold tight to the handles as I lowered her, step by step. Each step brought a little more slippage of my hands from the chicken grease and by the next to last step I basically had no grip on her at all. She hit the bottom with a little bigger bump than she was used to. She looked at me pathetically as I apologized. I opened the door for her and she glided on in. I was done for the day so it was up to another bellhop to get her out of there later.
Occasionally things in life happen that we have no explanation for. What follows is one such occurrence.
I was still fairly new as a bellhop---no more than a month on the job. I was in the back room behind the bellman’s desk when Mr. Kroot called for me. I came out and there were customers, a man and his wife, mid-forties in age, waiting with their luggage. They had requested that “Jimmy” be their bellhop. Now, I had never seen these people before, so I’m still wondering all these years later how in the hell they knew my name or to ask for me. I grabbed their single, large suitcase and escorted them to their room.
Later that evening the phone rang. It was my friends who requested “Jimmy”. They needed a bag of ice in their room. A bag of ice was about a buck and a half or so. I grabbed the ice and headed up to the fifth floor where their room was. I knocked on the door and the husband’s voice called out for me to come on in. I opened the door, and there, directly in front of me on the bed, sat Mrs. Guest, naked as the day she was born, except for a see thru chiffon type garment. Mr. Guest was standing off to the side, with a smile on his face. I did a Ralph Kramden-esque “Humanahumanahumana” and as quickly as possible set the ice down and didn’t even wait for the money or my tip. Perhaps the sight of the rather attractive Mrs. Guest in her natural state was my tip. Later, when they left after the weekend was over they again requested me and tipped me a crisp twenty dollar bill for one suitcase. I don’t know how or why it all happened , but looking back, I treasure that moment as one of the strangest and coolest things that has ever happened to me.
My bellhop career lasted for several months until late spring of 1978, after Passover, when things died down and I decided to go for a real, adult job. I was going to be a knifemaker.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I was a Teenage Dishwasher At the Rainbow Diner. Were YOU???

When I was 17 years old, my friend David Porsi got hired to work at a tool retail shop called Hershey Tools, owned by a nice man named Julius Herschowsky, in Kerhonkson, NY. His hiring there meant that he was going to leave his gig as a dishwasher at the Rainbow Diner, at the top of Kerhonkson Hill on Route 209. It was owned by an elderly couple, Ramona and Henry Bendell and was open 24 hours a day. I rushed over the two mile trek on my bicycle to the diner and met with the Bendells, telling them that I was a friend of Dave’s and that I was interested in the dishwashing job that was open. They hired me on the spot and told me I could start the next morning.
The next day I showed up at 6 AM and was introduced to the night cook, an older woman named Sarah, with a headful of black hair and a disdain for young dishwashers. The first hour of every morning was going to be hell, as a tired Sarah would go on a daily rant about the idiots who came in during the night, mostly truckers. I just gathered trays full of dishes and washed them, in three sinks—one for washing, one for rinsing and one for disinfecting. The silverware was done differently. It was placed in a galvanized bucket full of a very strong bleach and water solution and shaken vigorously in a rotating motion for about 30 turns, then dumped and refilled with hot water and disinfectant. Another 30 rotations and the silverware was deemed clean and sent out for use again. I was skeptical that the process worked but save for a few stubborn bits of eggs on some fork tines, they looked good.
At 7 AM Sarah’s replacement came in. Anna Pagliaroni was her name and she was a large jolly woman with a large family and even larger bunch of stories to tell. I enjoyed her immensely and discovered that I knew a son of hers, Tim, from school. Occasionally I would stay longer than Anna’s shift and would have to work with , and for, a cook who I will call only Ron. Ron would come in for the late afternoon and evening shift and was often fairly in his cups. Several times customers got their orders cooked by a 17 year old dishwasher, but since no one complained, I guess I did alright. My cue to take over was usually when Ron was so drunk that he would drop hamburgers on the floor right before replacing them on the buns and serving them. There was also a weekend cook named Don, a rotund man who lived alone and who later was discovered to be a pedophile.
We had a couple of waitresses there who were memorable, Sherry , a lovely woman, was one, and there was also Darlene. Sherry’s husband had been killed in a tragic fire several years earlier at the Pine Grove Resort Dude Ranch when the staff quarters caught on fire, killing him and others, to the best of my recollection.
I recall a customer of special note as well. The brother of legendary local State Trooper Doug Dymond, Dennis Dymond was somewhat impaired in some way. This was understood by all and not a factor as he went about his business, which included coming in for coffee every morning at the same time. In fact , you could set your watch by “Diner Dennis” as he was affectionately known.
Dishwashing being an “off the books” type of job, Mrs. Bendell, when it was paytime, would call me over to a little closet just off the kitchen area. In there, with her back to the outside world, she would carefully count out my small stipend for each week’s clean dishes. It was almost comical in the amount of secrecy she did the payment under.
The job went along fine until one winter morning, on Easter Sunday, when a rather large snowfall hit the area. I had been told to expect a busier than normal Sunday and that I should be there by 4 AM. Not having a car, and no way to ride a bike that far in the snow. I had to wait til the roads were cleared. I arrived at about 8 AM to find Donnie Williams, a local kid, already hired in my place. No amount of pleading could convince the Bendells to hire me back, so I wrote it off as a lousy job I wouldn’t miss and moved on to my next adventure: a bellhop at the Granit Hotel.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Last Thoughts on Kerhonkson

As Kerhonkson slowly dies, it occurs to me that there are a couple of different courses of action that can be taken. One is to maintain the status quo. A friend of mine commented earlier that, in her opinion, and I agree with this, the blame falls mainly on the collective populace of the town. They might be making changes but at such a glacial pace that you can’t see it from outer space. I doubt adding a menu item at the Rainbow Diner counts for much….
The trouble is that, like in a bad marriage, people become accustomed to just getting through the day and that would appear to be the case here. A collective apathy, like much of what has stricken the country, is occurring on the local level, and unless someone makes the decision to step up and change things, they will remain the same.
And what is the current status of Kerhonkson? Of course, any comments about Kerhonkson must, by necessity, include Wawarsing, a section of Accord, Napanoch and Ellenville, since they are all at least part of the Town of Wawarsing, and ultimately anything administrative has to be approved by the Town Board in Ellenville, where the Town of Wawarsing government is housed. As I visited all four of those villages recently I was dismayed to see that the once busy former Jamesway, formerly Whites, formerly Grants, formerly Ames ( I think) Plaza looks like it is a radioactive “stay out zone” with what appears to be a flea market in its place. From a lifetime of experience I know that when a place reaches flea market status the body is almost cold…and they tend to look like flea markets, cheap, trashy garbage masquerading as merchandise once you can get the mildew smell out of it. It’s not funny, but the flea market/auction subculture is a strange cycle of buying and reselling that makes no sense but keeps a certain group of people busy. Years ago I worked for a couple of summers and winters with Vic Zolinksy at Trader Vic’s Napanoch Auction Barn. His faithful followers were buying the same items over and over, selling them to each other and then having Vic sell them again at the auction. A strange, probably unique American experience that would, if it wasn’t so pathetic, be funny.
So, I digress again. Kerhonkson is in the flea market stage. Same old crap every day, same unemployment, same ugly and abandoned buildings, same drug problems, same everything. Almost ready for a new bridge that connects…what?
Reader David Witkus had a great idea to turn what is left of Main Street into a type of culinary row, refurbishing or rebuilding the remaining buildings to house cooking schools for local teens. Free tuition as long as they promise or agree to operate restaurants on the street after they have graduated. Money certainly would be problematic (Where the HELL is all that tax money going????) but it’s possible that someone with the capital would be able to seize the moment and build something memorable. Heck, they could even name the thing after themselves: Schoonmaker Row, or Kortright Korner, or any number of well to do families who have a vested interest in keeping their hometown alive.
Another reader reminded me of the fact that there is another resort, Soyuzivka, on Foordmore Road. It caters to Ukrainians, but has been a thriving and good neighbor to the area. Maybe expanding the Ukrainian theme would help the town a bit--some shops and restaurants with a touch of Ukrainian heritage, perhaps? Down here in Georgia, there is a town called Helen, which has a Bavarian theme going on, amongst beautiful scenery, no more so than Kerhonkson, and the place does extremely well with tourists, especially during Oktoberfest time. The beer and bratwurst are great. Why not adopt something similar in Kerhonkson, playing up Minnewaska as aprt of the mountainous area.
Of course all of this is speculation. Previously I had floated the idea of a grand hotel being built on the mountaintop, but someone reminded me that a large section of the mountain was declared “forever wild” by the Town of Wawarsing. I don’t know if the area above Kerhonkson is part of that but I’m sure someone will tell me.
C’mon folks…let us put our heads together and figure out how to revive this lovely place before its too late.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Kerhonkson Conumdrum: Death of a Village Pt 2

In my last piece I recounted coming home to Kerhonkson after a long absence and finding out that it looked like parts of a third world nation. A friend commented: I believe that the problem Kerhonkson has always had exists in its residents, collectively. If the majority were so inclined to productively change their community - it could be done. For a plethora of reasons it has not been done, and currently if anything is being remains at a snail’s pace. Your blog on Kerhonkson was, unfortunately, correct to a very large degree.
Well, I’m sad that she agrees with me, since she has been there through it all. But since it seems to be the consensus that the place is close to dead, what can be done to resurrect it? Too many blogs and even traditional media use their space to list and lament problems in an area but never come up with solutions. Let’s dare to be different here.
It’s obvious that the area itself has many strengths—it offers beautiful scenery, is a very large village if you realize that Kerhonkson itself runs from roughly the Lake Minnewaska entrance on Rt 44-55 all the way to Palentown Poad and the former Peg Leg Bates Resort, now owned and operated by another group of people. That is a distance of 15 or 16 miles, plus it runs from Wawarsing to Accord, another 5 or so miles on Rt. 209. It’s a big area, and the mountains, especially the Shawangunk Mountain that Minnewaska is part of and the ridge along its top that runs to Ellenville, along which were the old shacks and huts that housed the denizens of the huckleberry industry of days of old, offer a great resource if rules and regulations can be moderated to accommodate some sort of industry or business up there. Years ago Marriott wanted to put a hotel at Lake Minnewaska. That idea was voted/shouted down. So why not move the site of a nice big hotel to the very top of the mountain, among the scrub pines and granite, keeping it as environmentally friendly as possible, accessible from Rock Haven Road near 44-55? The place could be called Mountain Top Hotel, and if landscaped properly and new, "green" methods of waste disposal were handled in an intelligent way, it could be a huge boon to the area, offering jobs and bringing sorely needed money into the local economy. And who knows what it might lead to?
Local farm stands are another example. The most beautiful and prosperous of these is definitely Saunderskill Farms in Accord, but others are doing well and there is room for more, especially in the Kerhonkson area. Burd Farms on 209 has a nice little stand but it could be bigger and offer more produce and baked goods. Other small, roadside shops and markets of specialty items like maple syrup, arts and crafts (local, not mass produced crap)and more. Look at Woodstock for an example, with a few constraints. Woodstock is Woodstock. Kerhonkson is Kerhonkson. There's a great creek that runs through town. Make use of it! Put a nice restaurant over looking the water somewhere. Clear the crappy looking old trees and woods and open it up. People will come, industry or no industry.
Another suggestion is to play up the fresh water that the area produces. I recently brought back a few bottles of out of the ground pure goodness from Upper Cherrytown Road. Someone shold bottle this stuff for the tourist trade. Doesn't have to be a huge production, but water that pure can get top dollar as a specialty item for tourists. Nice bottle, fancy label, sell it in town, and a lot of cash will flow like that water. People come to the Catskills for the scenery. Let's give them a show. (Of course we don’t tell the tourists exactly where the water comes from---can’t let that cat out of the bag, cuz it needs to be left alone for the locals who already drink it).
C’mon, people. A few of you read this blog, and more read my facebook page. Gimme more ideas so I can submit them to the proper authorities. There is no need for all of this to get bogged down in beaureaucratic red tape, as I’m sure it will, per the usual way of things getting not done in Kerhonkson, but for the town’s sake, let’s try.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Better to burn out than to fade away: Kerhonkson, New York is a dying place...

I went home this week. To Kerhonkson, New York, a small town in the Hudson Valley in the fringes of the Catskill Mountains. It is, sadly, a town that is as sick and dying as a town can be without being called a “ghost town” and that’s a shame.
I grew up there. When my family moved south in 1968 from Brainardsville, NY, an even smaller town on the northern edge of the Adirondack Mountains, we were excited. Kerhonkson was exciting. It was bigger, more lively, and had a cast of characters that would rival those anywhere. The Granit Hotel was a mile from my house and was one of the few of the Catskills hotels still thriving, and had a great set of tennis courts and stuff to do. Ten miles up Samsonville Road, Peg Leg Bates ran a country club that everyone was welcome to but that catered mostly to blacks. It was not unusual to see 30 to 40 chartered busloads of folks up from New York for a great weekend of good food and entertainment. Jobs were readily available in the hotels and in nearby Ellenville, where other hotels like the Nevele and the Fallsview stood. The famous Schrade Cutlery knife factory was running on Canal Street and Channel Master and VAW were right up the street. In Napanoch, a mile north of Ellenville, the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, formerly an institution for juveniles with behavioral problems, employed hundreds of corrections officers.
In Kerhonkson, there were many stores and shops to check out. There were Aversano’s, Lipton’s, and Lytwyn’s, (later Sirico’s) Markets for food shopping, Marty Shuster’s Pharmacy, and much more. The Cassino Restaurant was open and busy, as was the Rainbow Diner run by Henry and Ramona Bendell. Nick Previll’s Shell Station offered good service. Tom Gewant sold Fords at his dealership and the mechanics around town were all mostly reliable. It was a pretty typical small town in a nice section of the state of New York, and a good place to live.
Kerhonkson, if you’ve never been there, is located on Route 209 as it runs north and south from the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge on the Hudson River to parts south and ends (I think) in Pennsylvania. The Rainbow Diner, Aversano’s and other businesses were located on 209 and there is a street called Old Minnewaska Trail that runs perpendicular to 209 and off of which runs Main Street, just over a steel bridge that spans the Rondout Creek. Main Street housed the Fire House, the Post Office and several more shops and markets, as well as McGillicuddy’s Tavern and a bunch of apartment buildings. It wasn’t a wealthy town by any stretch of the imagination but it was a happy place to live and things were good.
There were many characters around town and the surrounding hills. Up on Shawangunk Drive, Fletcher, Earl and Nellie Mae VanWagener lived in a small house together—siblings, they were born in the house and would eventually die in the house. Nellie Mae would be the last to go, a tough mountain woman who chopped her own firewood, shingled her own roof and took no crap from anyone. In her bedroom closet she kept a rifle hidden in a cardboard tube. And she wasn’t afraid to shoot first and ask questions later. She had been a part of the once flourishing blueberry picking industry that existed on the mountain that stretched from Kerhonkson to Ellenville. She would eventually die alone in her small ramshackle house, with dozens of cats running rampant inside and out, stubborn to the end. A fall had broken her hip and because she had refused to wear a life alert button that friends had acquired for her, she was unable to call for help. She died a terrible death in the same house that she was born in. She was cremated by the county, having died intestate, and her ashes were spread around her beloved property by myself and a woman named Donna Spano, who had also looked in on Nellie once in a while, as I had, frequently having to take her shopping when her old car finally died and she couldn’t afford another one. At one point Nellie, who was on a limited income, complained that her light bill had approached six hundred dollars the previous month and she wasn’t able to pay it. She usually had a bill of around thirty five dollars, using very little electricity, but it had spiked for an unknown reason for a month and she was worried about how to pay for it. I called Central Hudson and when they looked back through her records noted to me that she had not missed a payment or been even late with one since 1948. And they couldn’t help her. I think eventually they relented whe nit was discovered that her freezer had gone wacky and was burning up the juice at a furious rate. Donna (or I) made arrangements for a used but good fridge/freezer combo to be delivered to her at no charge.
Jigs Crose was another character. I only met him once and have a vague memory of that encounter but he was famous around town for his ability (?) to chew and eat a shotglass with no obvious ill effects.
Another guy I recall from my childhood was a mentally challenged man named Art Decker, who dressed like a hillbilly and rode a very old bicycle around town all the time. He usually had drool on his mouth and didn’t smell too great, and little girls were warned to stay away from him. I write this cautiously, not wanting to libel the man, but it was a concern in our circle of families and friends,
Other people and events are recounted in a nice new book called Closed Until Further Notice , written by a local author and resident Art Stockin. More a memoir and recollection of a lot of the author’s acquaintances than a history of the village itself, it is nonetheless a very interesting look at the area and its people. Proceeds from it go to help rebuild the village.
Kerhonkson is a tough place to describe in a brief piece like this one, but if one word could do it, for me it would be “home.”
And when I recently visited Kerhonkson again this past week after a 4 year absence, I felt the pain from a double edged sword through my heart when I saw not only the decrepit state of my old house on Foordmore Road, but Kerhonkson itself. The bridge connecting Main Street to the rest of the town had been torn down and is finally in the last stages of being rebuilt. During its absence the fire department has had to take long detours just to get to short, as the crow flies, distances away. Main Street now consists of three buildings, the rest having been torn down. The Granit Hotel had been sold to a Korean concern and is now the Hudson Valley Resort and is facing serious financial problems, leaving it, along with the former Peg Leg Bates Resort and the Pine Grove Resort Ranch, a “dude ranch” for city folks who want to ride horses and get a little country in them, as the last functioning resorts in the area.
The job market in the area now consists mostly of corrections officers and yard sales. I know it’s an exaggeration but folks, there ain’t much there. Channel Master left town long ago. Schrade Cutlery, which employed hundreds, went out of business several years ago, as did VAW. The Nevele and Fallsview Hotels finally folded, the last of the famous Catskills Borscht Belt hotles to fall, although up in Sullivan County a few still hang on.
I guess as long as there are criminals the prisons will always need guards, but what does it mean when guarding bad guys is the cottage industry of a region? I used to think that we shouldn’t be spending money to build more prisons all the time but it also occurs to me that as a society we keep producing criminals so as a society it is our responsibility to keep them off the streets and focus on producing more good citizens. Better schools plus better parenting equals better people equals less need for prisons.
But I digress.
So my hometown is dying. It’s a sad but true commentary that nothing lasts forever but dammit, it’s a vital and lovely place and can’t be left to rot. Post 9/11 incursions of city folks changed the face of the area forever with their big city money. Houses that once were selling for $80,000 all of a sudden became half million dollar homes as asking prices, usually a place to start as you bargained it down, became starting points in bidding wars for the wealthy who wanted out of the city. The tax base shot up at record speed and only the wealthiest locals could keep up. Here’s an eye opener: A friend in Rosendale, NY, about 10 miles away, has a small house on .18 of an acre. She and her husband pay around 4200 bucks annually in taxes. That’s like adding 350 bucks a month extra to your rent or mortgage payment. Down here in Georgia another friend has a big house, on a lake with 8 acres, and pays about 1200 dollars a year in taxes. The job situation here in the south is pretty dire, but at least the taxes aren’t criminally high.
So I went home. I’m glad I did. And I’m sad that I did. I often harbor thoughts of moving back but to what? I guess time will tell.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Dumbing Down of America

George Carlin once did a bit about the corporate control of America and how those corporations own everything, including the schools. He concluded that the reason that education in this country is so inferior to other countries is because the powers that be don’t want a citizenry that can think for itself and make informed decisions about anything other than what to have for lunch on any given day. And he may be right.
As I walk around town, not just here in Georgia, but even back in my hometown of Kerhonkson, New York, (a small town the size of Jackson) where I just visited this week, I see signs, literally and figuratively, that are disturbing,. The very basics of our educational system are falling by the wayside and it’s something that needs to be corrected immediately. I’m talking about our rapidly failing ability to read and write properly. It’s everywhere.
A friend recently put an ad in her local paper in north Georgia. She was looking for a job, and phrased the ad that way. She also gave her qualifications and described her “skill set” and left her phone number in the ad. Calls started coming in….from people who did not read the ad properly and who were looking for a job, not offering one. It happens all the time.
Another friend recently took on the task of reading and rating entries in a youth writing challenge sponsored by Positive Impact Magazine. The contest is open to school children of all ages. To her dismay, she discovered that the best writing came from children in grades four through six, and that they wrote on a higher level than the average high school student. It’s just one person’s observation, but it is indicative of a greater problem that has helped drop this country’s status in the world rankings further and futher down the list. This country is getting dumber. Why is that?
I was a school teacher for six years. I taught all subjects, but the one I stressed and focused on most was reading. If you never learn another subject, you must learn to read. Reading, and writing, are the keys that open all doors. Don’t know how to make an apple pie? Read the recipe. Don’t know when the Civil War was? Get a book and READ.
And write. The simplest errors are often the ones that stand out the most. As a writer, when I see a sign that says, “Puppie’s for sale” or “free kitten’s,” I cringe. Folks, apostrophes are possessive, as, “The puppies are Larry’s. ” It’s a small error but just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dumbing down of America. When the signs say, “Puppy’s for sale,” then I get even more worried.
In an era where everyone has a blog and technology and internet use has increased a million-fold, lazy habits become more and more commonplace. “Texting” has created a whole new language, adding to the mess. Audio books have reduced the number of actual books read, and the country as a whole seems to be dumbing down and getting lazier. In the meantime, our competition in the world market seem to be sharpening their collective axes and are just waiting for us to get to the point where they can chop our heads off and take over as the dominant world power, if they have not already.
It’s not a simple solution to regain our position as a world superpower overnight , but learning the basics all over again would be a good start. Readin’ and writin’ people! Do it!