Best thing to do after Yom Kippur is laugh. Life is short. This one’s for you Shell.
Give Me Liberty (1993)
The house looked as though it had crawled right off a post card for country living. It was a rustic, turn-of-the century woodframe three-floor home with a back porch that overlooked a bubbling creek. On the side of the house churned a working water mill.
“You need a break!” announced my girlfriend Shell, “Let’s go to this place in the Catskills!”
Sitting on that back porch, sipping a glass of sauvignon blanc and looking at the stream seemed like it might be close to heaven.
The house was in Liberty, New York. The very name of the town made me calm.
Liberty. I needed some of that.
Shell rented it for the month of August. I packed what I thought I’d need for country living; coffee, bubble bath, antacid, a case of wine, granola, peanut butter, my bathing suit and a flashlight.
A few weeks later, we pulled into the main drag of Liberty in our rent-a-car. The business section wasn’t exactly bustling with people. I counted two. There was a scattering of shops and a bar.
A group of men, one of whom was wearing an orange hunting vest, stepped out of the bar. Hunting vest man started mooing at us! Then his buddies joined in.
“Is that a compliment or an insult?” I asked Shell.
We walked into the deli. A toothless man at the counter gave us directions to the grocery and to the house we rented.
“Yep that’s Sarah’s place. Best get going while it’s daylight,” he advised. “Ya can’t find nothing in the dark. I lost my dog up there years ago. Something must have ate her.”
We picked up a few days of vittles at the grocery and hit the road.
After getting lost a few times (this was years before GPS), we finally found the dirt road that led to our oasis. There she was, a beautiful aged white house on a stream.
Just as Sarah, our hippie landlady had said, we found the key in the mailbox with a note.
Welcome to paradise! I left you chicory coffee and vegan butter in the fridge. Don’t flush too much toilet paper at a time and make sure to turn the lights off when not using. The goddess has blessed this home. Enjoy her radiance.
We put our sauvignon blanc and the perishables in the fridge and left the sliced bread, Doritos, spaghetti, apples and coffee cake in the grocery bags on the counter.
We walked around the house. Mexican blankets were draped on a soft plush couch and an easy chair in the living room. An old farmhouse table with mismatched chairs was in the dining room. A faded country quilt covered the queen bed. There was a nightstand with books and magazines piled on it. In the bathroom sat a clawfoot tub.
“I’m definitely taking a bubble bath tonight!” I announced.
I stepped out onto the back porch and listened to the creek and the churning water mill. There were birds singing and purple wild flowers growing on the side of the house. This really was paradise.
Shell opened the upstairs window and hung her head out screaming, “There’s no TV! What are we supposed to do for a whole month?”
I poured us both a glass of wine, and we sat in the rocking chairs on the porch.
“We’re going to find our calm. That’s what we’re going to do.”
We took a stroll along the path that weaved around the property. It was overgrown with saplings and tall grass. By the time we got back to the house, we were covered in mosquito bites. A black fly had bitten me so hard on the neck, it felt like a vampire.
“I forgot the bug spray,” announced Shell.
“But you remembered the two-ply toilet paper!” I laughed.
For dinner that night, I made a spaghetti sauce out of garlic, tomato and fresh thyme and served it with the turkey meatballs we’d picked up at the market.
We opened the back porch door to have peppermint tea overlooking the stream but walked into a wall of mosquitos and quickly ran back inside.
Minutes after the sun went down, I heard a rustling in the kitchen. It was the sound of our grocery bags moving!
An animal had gotten into the house!
I ran to the kitchen and flicked on the light switch. What I saw at first looked like a light brown blanket covering our bags, but then I realized it was mice, a lot of mice! The plastic bag covering the bread was already chewed through and there were nibbles in the rye. The mice scattered.
“WTF!” screamed Shell.
I shook my head sadly surveying the damage. There were mouse turds all over the counter.
Shell picked up the house phone and called Sarah.
“Peace be with you,” answered Sarah.
“There are mice everywhere!” screamed Shell.
“Don’t hurt them!”
“Don’t hurt them?!”
“You city folks. Just put your food away and they’ll leave you alone. You’re in the country now!”
I threw the bread out in the garbage and closed the metal lid tightly. Then we put the rest of our food in the fridge. I groaned at having to chill the farmhouse tomatoes.
“Let’s go upstairs, “I suggest, “Maybe they won’t bother us up there.”
The moment I flicked on the light switch in the bedroom, mice scattered from everywhere. Dozens of mouse poops adorned the quilt.
One of them brushed past Shell’s foot as it ran away.
She let out a scream that would have woke the neighbors, if we had any.
Shell called Sarah again, “They’re everywhere! They even pooped on the bed!”
“This is a sanctuary. All peaceful creatures are welcome,” Sarah said sounding eerily calm. “You can leave if you want, but your rent is non-refundable.”
I looked at the claw foot tub that had so enticed me. It, too, was dotted with the pellets of peaceful creatures. There was no way I was sitting in that. There was no way I was taking off my clothes, either. Shell and I put on running pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts. We put our sneakers on and then decided to leave them on while we slept. Or rather tried to sleep. We left ALL the lights on but we could still hear them squeaking and running about in what sounded like glee.
When the sun came up in the morning, we bolted out of bed. Daytime was apparently the only time to enjoy our temporary home.
I found mouse poop all over the kitchen floor and torn bits of bread. The garbage can was on its side. Somehow they’d managed to knock it over, pull the lid off and had a feeding frenzy.
“How did those little mice do that?” I asked dumbfounded.
“Maybe it was a raccoon?”
“Oh that makes me feel so much better!”
We drove into town to buy bug spray at the hardware store. One of the men who’d mooed at us was outside the hardware store smoking a cigarette. He had a large beer belly covered in hair that he exposed when he pulled up his T-shirt to scratch it. As we scurried past he smiled widely, “Mawning ladies!”
We nodded and walked in the store.
We picked up four cans of bug spray and some duct tape for the garbage pail lid.
We tried to make the best of the rest of our day, walking along the path, putting our feet in the stream, but both of us knew it was coming. Nighttime.
As we watched the sun start to fade, a swarm of gnats circled us. They seemed to be enjoying the flavor of our useless bug spray.
“There’s a Scrabble board,” I suggested.
I opened up the Scrabble board but none of the pieces were in the box. Just then I saw a steak of orange outside the window. Two men in orange hunting jackets with rifles were walking past the house!
Shell called up Sarah.
“It’s not hunting season, but hard to stop the combination of alcohol, guns and testosterone.”
“But it’s your property!”
“Uh-huh. If you catch them, there’s a hefty fine.”
“If we … catch them?”
The men looked up at me in the window. I recognized the beer belly mooer.
They disappeared into the trees, but not before he let out a giant “MOOOOO!”
In the morning I went downstairs to find the duct tape chewed through. The garbage pail lid was ajar. Mouse pellets were on the floor and counters.
We loaded up the car and headed back to Manhattan quite a few miles above the speed limit.
“I guess we make lousy country girls,” I laughed.
“Spa might be nice,” suggested Shell.