Binghamton Tourists

When I told Joel and Kelly all the places that my guests call home, Kelly said, “Well, we’re not very exotic, are we?” But she was wrong about that. Binghamton has always been the kind of town that people pass through to get to somewhere else. But Kelly and her new husband (they got married a month ago) had come from Syracuse to celebrate Kelly’s birthday and see the sights. They were my first Binghamton tourists!

Joel and Kelly were disappointed with the downtown Farmer’s Market, but they had a great lunch at Despina’s Mediterranean Taste. They got a private tour of the Phelps Mansion and drove up the hill to take a look at the New York State Inebriate Asylum, a massive Gothic Revival building designed by Isaac Perry in 1864 and now in its first phase of renovation.

Binghamton has two new brew pubs, and Joel and Kelly went to both of them, a beer at Galaxy Brewing Company and dinner at the Water Street Brewery. They saw Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” at the Art Mission and Theater, and then briefly checked out the downtown bar scene. Too young a crowd for them. They even stopped in at the Belmar on their way home.

After breakfast I sent them off to the Otsiningo Farmer’s Market, located in a beautiful park along the Chenango River. And I told them about the Bundy Mansion, a beautiful Queen Anne style house containing a large collection of clocks and other collectibles from the Bundy Time Recorder Company, the precursor of IBM. I had sent some guests from Holland there just days before, and they had loved it.

So, see, there is lots to do in Binghamton!

Cooking with Pat

Julia child versus Rachael Ray. Compromise with Mark Bittman. I am enjoying dinner parties once again, just as I did when I was a wife and mother, But back then the meal took all day to prepare–thank you, Julia–and I spent my time in the kitchen, while my husband passed out drinks to our friends in the living room.  Now the party is IN the kitchen, and in the place of those old friends I have my bed and breakfast guests. One brings the salad, the other a bottle of wine. My life has not been so social in years.  Patricia is paying me for her good company.

Patricia has been staying with me a couple nights a week since February.  She makes quiches from “must-goes,” which is what her mother used to call the small bits of leftovers abandoned in the bowels of the refrigerator.  When I invited Christyne from DC to join us for dinner, she put on an apron and started cooking. “I didn’t bring anything,” Christyne said.  “Cooking is my contribution.”  I was her sou-chef–delivering the pasta, tomatoes from the garden, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, broccoli.  Patricia set the table and poured out the wine, while Christyne took some scissors from the utensil drawer and went outside to snip parsley and oregano and chives.

One night Alice came to stay. Her profile told me that she was a stage designer, and as she was bringing her daughter to the Bat Mitzva of a friend, I thought she might be free for the evening, so I invited her to go and see a play with me, “The Rainmaker.” When I found her in her room eating snacks, I invited her to have dinner with me, and then we went off to see the play.  Only later did I learn that she wasn’t that kind of stage manager, although she once had been so, but rather she was a corporate stage manager for the likes of Toyota and Chrysler and IBM, and behind the curtain was not a spinster from the 1930’s but the latest Chrysler model. I hadn’t ever even thought about such a profession. My guests amaze me.

But when they leave, when there is no one coming that night, I fall apart, like the kitchen, with the dishes piling up and the floor needing sweeping.  It happens every time.  My spirit becomes disorderly. When I don’t have guests I stay up too late watching movies and come down in the morning to be greeted by my messy kitchen.  Patricia doesn’t realize how her cheerful arrivals, week after week, hold me together.

Is this blog about writing or about my guests?

I’ve got blog phobia.  I want more than anything to write a blog about my airbnb guests, but I watch myself not doing it.  I regale my friends with stories about my guests. Even my Airbnb guests love hearing about my other Airbnb guests.  You should write a blog, my friends say.  Don’t keep all these stories to yourself.  I tell myself the same thing.  All the time.  But whenever I take up the task in earnest, that pesky editor pops up on my shoulder and starts nagging, so I never get anywhere.

I’ve taken private notes about some of my guests, but I’ve neglected others, and I want to remember them all.  Writing a blog would enable me to do that.  I need to plunge in and put those notes on-line. A writer-friend of mine, encouraging me to take to plunge, wonders what I am worried about. “A blog is a great place to cure yourself of writer’s block,” she says.  “Nobody is even going to know about it, unless you spread the word.

One thing I worry about is the privacy issue, as all non-fiction writers do, but I’m not going to let that bother me anymore.  And wouldn’t William Loizeaux, who stayed with me last night, love for people to know about his new novel, The Tumble Inn?  I would actually be performing a service!

Bill came from Boston with his wife to do a reading at RiverRead Books.  It was fun to have a writer staying here.  “You’ve got books on your shelf that I teach,” he said in surprise.  I told him how I had gotten an MFA in creative nonfiction at Stonecoast and dreamed about having a writing life, but how my community work, another passion, had gotten in the way.  So then we started talking about the work I do in the neighborhood, which often happens.  It is a fascinating subject in this changing world of ours.  It’s another subject I’d like to write about.  Perhaps this blog will lead the way.

But for now I am going to curl up on the couch on this dull, chilly day, Einstein at my feet, and get started on The Tumble Inn, a copy of which Bill generously left for me.  I love Airbnb.

More on Blog Writing

I’m been thinking about writing a blog about my bed and breakfast ever since my guests started arriving or, more accurately, ever since they started leaving, because it was after I shut the door behind my guests I felt the impulse to write about their visits.  Where does that urge come from, I wonder?  After all, it isn’t as if my guests just disappear.  Like Eric, they write generous notes in my guest books, and they leave references on the Airbnb website, the same as I do for them.  That’s the way we garner good reputations as hosts and guests.  I think what I yearn for is to extend the conversation.  We’ve become friends, and I don’t want them to leave quite yet.  I have more questions that I want to ask, more I want to know about them, more that I want to share about myself.  It’s hard to let them go.

The professional medium, one of the most gentle and open men I’ve ever met, arrived on a sweltering summer afternoon, just as I was wondering how I was ever going to get the new air conditioner out of the trunk of my car and upstairs into his room.  “Want me to carry that in for you?” he asked, walking up my front walk with his suitcase in hand.  “I’ll install it, if you like.  I work part-time as a contractor.”   Jake was on his way to Lily Dale, a community of Spiritualists in western New York that dates back to the late 19th Century.  He was going for a ten-day trial to see if he qualified to join the staff, in which case he’d be spending his summers there helping people connect with their deceased loved ones.

I offered Jake dinner in return for his kind services, but he refused the vegetarian fare I offered him.  When he got back from Arby’s, he joined me in the garden.  We were talking about our lives a little—maybe about our children—when he unexpectedly changed the subject.

“Does the name William, or Bill, mean anything to you?” he said.

I was stunned.  The name William is of critical importance to my life.  William, my father, who died when I was eleven.  William, my son, with whom I have a very troubling relationship and have not seen, except accidentally, in three long years.  Two big empty spaces in my life.  but how would Jake have possibly have known this.  I was immediately suspicious.  “Why do you ask?” I said.

“I just got a sense of it,” he said.  “Is it true?

I told him that I have a son named William, that my father’s name was William.

“Ah, I thought so,” he said.

“Come on.  You’ve been doing research on me,” I said, although I couldn’t see how that was possible, as he’d only booked his room yesterday, and Airbnb is very respectful of my privacy.  From the start I’d been a little hesitant about inviting a professional medium into my house.  It’s a line of work that I view with suspicion.  Now my defenses were up.

“No, I don’t do that,” he said, in his patient and kind manner.

Jake told me how he had gotten into the medium business.  The deceased son of a former girlfriend had appeared to him, speaking about his craving for a special kind of cheesecake from a bakery in his hometown.  “I seem to have a gift for this,” he said.  He hasn’t been doing it long, maybe a couple of years, and I could tell that he was a little nervous about his upcoming week at Lily Dale.

I hope Jake gets the job.  If I ever see him again, I will apologize for doubting him.  And I’ll ask about my Williams.

Visiting with Marita

Marita spent three nights at the Queen Anne B&B, while she traveled through upstate New York recruiting for CUNY Law School.  Most of my guests are couples, who spend the majority of their time entertaining each other.  As Marita was on her own, I was lucky enough to have company for dinner as well as breakfast.  I cooked the first night—roast chicken with potatoes and kale picked freshly from the garden—with Marita contributing an excellent bottle of red wine.  The next night Marita ordered take-out from Thai Time and I made baked apples, which we ate while we watched the second Presidential debate.  We also took Einstein on a walk around the golf course on a balmy October afternoon, so we had plenty of time to get to know each other a little.

Marita is from Kansas, thirty years old, just graduated from law school with ambitions of working with Native Americans, a truly modern woman full of old-fashioned values.  We even had discussion about the proper way to set a table, her Canadian grandmother and my Canadian mother having instilled in us the necessity for a surfeit of plates and utensils at the breakfast table.

Although we were raised in vastly different eras for women, Marita reminded me just a little of a much, much younger version of myself.  Considering her definite artistic bent—she remarked often on the paintings and books in my house—I expressed surprise that she had chosen pre-med for her undergraduate years, rather than pursuing the liberal arts, and then gone on to law school.  “It was hardly original,” she said, “with a lawyer for a father.”

I laughed.  It would have been really original for a woman of my era!   And there were certainly some of them.  But when I was in college I majored in English, busy getting educated for a future married life with a husband who would support me.  I got a Master’s degree in Art History, but I never had a career in mind.  I was simply marking time until I married.  My career, such as it is, has been purely accidental.

Would I would have chosen law school if I had been born in the 1980’s?  After all, my father was a lawyer too, although he taught law rather than practice it.  My brother’s life took a predictably different direction; he went to medical school and had a successful career as a cardiologist, following in the steps of his father-in-law.  What a difference Feminism has made in the lives of women.

Marita was raised by parents who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  At one point she remarked that she wished that her parents had given her more guidance about her future.  I also feel this way.  It still surprises me that my mother, despite having to support the two of us after my father died when I was eleven, did not instill in me a determination to acquire the skills to pay my own way.  I wish I could call Marita back and ask her what she meant.  Was she, perhaps, as driven by the demands of Feminism as I had been driven by the paternalistic times in which I lived?

Marita and I need to continue this discussion.  Perhaps we can do so on right here on this blog.