To the person whose only regret was that I “didn’t write a word.” You know who you are.
It’s an old place, this town. There’s no denying that. Buildings are covered in a fine patina of glistening, dull green. Iron oxidizes. The water is brown. The people are bent over.
The people are disappearing.
And yet, coupled with the inevitable hiccups and gasps the town emits during its lengthening off-seasons, there is an undeniable, effervescent quality good old Schroon exudes, one it will take with it down to its final breath, whenever that may be. It’s impossible to miss that presence.
Coffee’s a dollar seventy-five for twenty-four ounces at the local Stewart’s. Hot dogs are less than half of that, and a cheeseburger’s a dollar forty-nine if you come in after three. I go in, grab a cup and fill it to the brim with French vanilla cappuccino, then dump in some extra French vanilla creamer. The cashier, Bethany, says something to the other employee about ATMs. I stir furiously. It almost overflows.
“You up at the Word of Life conference?” Bethany says as I hand her two one-dollar bills. When I respond in the affirmative, she goes on, “That’s nice, my daughter and I live up there in one of the chalets. My parents work there, actually. Having fun?”
“Definitely,” I say. I take an early sip and burn my tongue. This is the second time in one day. “Thanks,” I add.
“No problem. Have an awesome time.”
“You too,” I say. Then I wince.
The Schroon Lake War Memorial is opposite Stewart’s, not much more than a list of names on a monument and a small statue erected in their honor. The names date back to the Revolutionary War. I can’t help but wonder what their stories are.
After the memorial, there’s a small pavilion off to my left. Three littles with their dad race around on their scooters. The dad has a moustache that belongs back in the 70s. The kids keep riding around.
There’s a little structure with a flight of stairs that leads up to a small . . . opening, I guess. I’m at a loss for words to try and describe what it looks like. I take the stairs, looking over the lake. There’s nowhere to sit, so I hurry back down, take another set of stairs down to the lake, and take off my shoes and socks, putting them next to a bench. Then I roll up my jeans and walk towards the sand.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that. The millions of particles of sand dig between my toes, rub against them. Two more steps, and I’m on wet, packed sand, and then I’m on shifting ground, and then—then comes the still-freezing water, slapping against my bare legs, eliciting a stifled gasp from my lips. The ululating waters keep crawling forward, swelling gently in the tide, then retreating back, then advancing forward again. I grin a little, my teeth chattering, then suck in a shaky breath. It’s all good. So very, very good.
I see a couple of kids on the dock nearby. One of them is leaning over the edge, arms and torso just inches above the placid sheet of water. His friend holds his ankles. That’s what buddies do.
There’s a pebble in the water that catches as my eyes as the tides pulls back for one second, a pebble so smooth and worn by the endless barrage of Time that I can’t help but pick it up, turn it over in my hand, admire its featureless, simple feel. Then it’s hurling over the water, executing lazy pirouettes before it’s sucked back into the waves, perhaps to resurface at some point in the future.
Back on shore, I wipe my sandy feet on the velvety carpet of grass and sit down on the bench. Finish my too-sweet coffee. Sigh. An older couple comes down, two large Dalmatians tugging the towards the beach.
“Howdy,” the shirt-clad man says.
“Hello,” I reply. The woman smiles.
I try writing for a few minutes–It’s an old place, this town. There’s no denying that–but store my laptop back in my backpack and put on my sneakers. Maybe I’m trying to force the whole experience too much. Maybe it’s not just my day.
Maybe there’s no point in trying to drive home a point in my pedestrian experiences.
Now that’s a start, I think ruefully as I pick up my backpack and nod to the couple. Probably wouldn’t hurt if I did that a little more often. Might as well try today.
For now, I’ll walk up the garbage-strewn stone steps, past the forgotten war memorial, past the Stewart’s with its stained linoleum floors, over the moss-ravaged bridge and across the faded crosswalk. I’ll take the shortcut back to the Inn, past the houses with so much abandoned junk on their back porches. I’ll look at the desolate balconies overflowing with splintered chairs, wonky transistor radios, and baby toys. I’ll look down to the stagnant, scummy water creeping up towards the houses, water chockfull with algae, and I will keep walking, walking, walking.
Only this, and nothing more.
Perhaps when I get back, I’ll pull up a couch in the lobby and breathe in the aromatic odors of coffee and fruit and cakes. Maybe I’ll head down to the game room and attempt to mingle with my own kind, which in actuality means I’ll probably just sit in a corner and hold a double conversation with my writing friend. Maybe I’ll do this, or do that, or do something else.
That, I suppose, is the best I can do.
And that is exactly what I will do.
Less than three,