The Mohonk Mountain House outside of New Paltz, New York is one of my favorite getaway destinations. It is a resort built on Quaker principles of quiet and recreation – in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. All within 2 hours of Manhattan. Couldn’t ask for more.
I don’t usually visit the House (that’s what we regulars call it) during the winter. Although if you’re into cross-country skiing, ice skating and snow shoeing, it is the perfect place. I traditionally visit during the summer or fall when I can hike the trails, swim in the lake, visit the barn. You know: wakeup and smell the flowers kinda stuff.
I have been going to the House for years, pretty much every year. Always as a guest. This trip, I’m part of the entertainment: two Angel Therapists® and myself, presented an evening with the Angel Salon® – Listening to Your Angels. It was my first workshop and what a place for my premiere as guest lecturer. It was a small, but I think it is fair to say, rapt group. Couldn’t have been happier.
I moved my plans up by two days when I saw the brochure for “Mohonk at the Movies” – celebrating Academy Awards and the people who make the films. The jump-off speaker was Stephen Bogart — yes, son of Betty and Bogie – but, that’s not how I know him. He and I were part of the founding team of Court TV – way back then in the 80’s. In his own right, he is a wonderful writer and producer, currently working at one of the independent stations in NYC.
He was here to share his memories of his famous parents — mostly his father.
Steve walked around the House with his entourage, okay – with his wife and friends: beautiful wife Barbara, ghoul to the stars Michael Baden and his wife, Linda Kenney, lawyer to the homicidal set.
The talk itself was fascinating. Steve played a ten-minute tape of John Huston’s obit of his father, which I, for one, had never heard. But, the personal bits from Steve’s point of view I really liked. That he thinks his father would not approve of his work ethic (“I love my work, but I would rather be on the beach”). His reluctant admission that he smokes (particularly poignant considering the fact that his dad died from a smoking-caused cancer: of the esophagus. As Steve put it: hey, its stupid, but I’m human. “I quit smoking every night.” Funny story (in those days, drinking all the time didn’t have the pall of alcoholism over it) about his father getting so drunk one night, that he passed out under the bushes of a complete stranger. When discovered, Bogie stood up and introduced himself as Humphrey Bogart and proceeded to delight his unexpected host.
Interesting anecdote from the Huston obit, where he compared Bogie to the pike in the fountains of Versaille – who exist to keep the carps on their toes, asitwere. Bogie was like that, Huston intoned, at those Hollywood parties. You can imagine he would stir things up just to keep people from getting complacent. Good naturedly, of course. It was apparently good for keeping away the studio big wigs.
You could tell that the evening’s talk was familiar to Stephen Bogart, the reluctant son of a Bogie. You get the sense that he has reluctantly embraced the inevitable — that people expect him to be Bogie’s son — so he plays that role. He doesn’t need to – he’s a regular guy, family man, television news writer, loyal friend. But, why not, right? But, you could feel the sadness of the little boy he was when his dad died (Bogie died within a week of Steve’s 8th birthday). “I only had him for eight years.”
Steve said his greatest goal in life was to make sure his children, unlike him, grew up with their father. “The most important thing to me was that I would live until they were at least 18, and I accomplished that.”
Be careful of what you ask for. It was the summer of 2007. I was working 12 hours a day, 5, sometimes 6, days a week. I was burned out. “I need a break” became my mantra. And, break is what I got.
It started during a “break” in my work, a short vacation. I fell off a rented bicycle while on Shelter Island. It has been a long time since I’ve fallen off a bike. Scraped knees and elbows. Like a child. After I disentangled myself, I discovered I had injured my foot.
I managed to get myself back from an isolated point two miles from my hotel. I dropped off the bike, packed up, and begged a lift to the ferry. Three hours to get home, riding on the Hampton Jitney in the rain. By midnight I arrived at my apartment. Next morning, I hobbled to the hospital. After three hours in the emergency room, another hour in the examining room, couple of x-rays later, I got the news: I had fractured my foot. They wrapped it up in plaster, handed me a pair of crutches, and sent me out to the streets of Manhattan.
The abled: they push by you — it doesn’t matter that you are on crutches. I had one fat tourist bump into me, he said he didn’t notice. Oh, I can see how you can ignore a woman wearing a Luke Skywalker boot and propelling herself around on two huge sticks.
There were those who seemed to believe if you’re ambling along on crutches, they can touch you. In sympathy, I guess. They would just reach right into my space and cluck. And the advice. Ack! The crutches are too low. The crutches are too high. Tuck them way up there in your armpits. Take calcium. Walk as much as you can. Don’t leave your sofa, you need to rest.
Infirmity drove me to change my means of commuting. Car service got old: too slow and wasteful. I love the NYC subways: nothing like getting right in there with the great unwashed. Rubbing shoulders and other parts, bouncing along with arms akimbo – hands wrapped around the poles or hitched up on the handrests above. But, navigating stairs and being somewhere I couldn’t really exit quickly was not an option. I turned to buses.
Buses apparently are the preferred conveyance of hobblers in the city. I quickly learned what it meant to be disabled in the city. It can best be characterized by the bus experience. Where to start. There are those seats at the front of the bus earmarked (allegedly) for the disabled. In reality: they’re often taken up by children, fat people, tourists, or the lazy.
Sitting in those front seats: the panoply of the disabled with their canes, walkers or wheelchairs. We all sit there knowingly. Smiling at one another in secret sympathy. Cautiously of course, this IS New York City. A private club of casts, boots and crutches.
One day a blind woman sat next to me, her seeing eye dog sprawled on my broken foot. When she turned him away from my foot, HIS feet were now jutting into the aisle. So, every time the bus took on more passengers, folks would exclaim “watch out for the dog, watch out for the dog.” Or, the blind woman would tug up on its canine legs to keep him from harm’s way.
I discovered something when I was forced to take the bus rather the subway. On the subway, you crowd on, you stand or sit, people rarely give up their seats for anyone. I’ve often thought if the Titanic sank now, the men would push the women and children aside to get into the lifeboats. We don’t look at or talk with one another. We careen through dark, underground, horizontal holes that take flights of stairs to enter and exit. We live in our private worlds.
Not so on buses. They are a petri dish of public chatter. You wait sometimes as much as a half an hour for the buses. You commisserate while you’re doing so. Once aboard, you’re elbow to elbow, and perhaps because the ride takes longer, and you can actually hear one another, and, without that clamor of clattering wheels on tracks, you actually converse. This, as much as anything, was what I learned from my experience as a disabled person in New York City: that difference between the underground and overground ways of commuting.
Clearly the universe wanted me to slow down.