Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

26 September

The Mansion Halloween Festival Gets Scarier By The Day

by Jon Katz

I just ordered $75 worth of Led lights in many scary shapes and colors and sizes for the Mansion Halloween Festival; various ghosts and goblins are already on the way. Our costumes and ghosts are already arriving.

We have painted pumpkins – the residents are wild about the painting. And ghouls and goblins we are hiding until the right moment comes.

The aides are deep into the Halloween spirit; this is the daily menu posting for the dining room. Wait till the rest of the stuff arrives. I’ve had a blast scouring the Internet looking for strange and ghostly things. Wait until they see the paint on-the-glow-in-the-dark pumpkins Maria and Tania and the residents painted.

It is a joy to see the people there so engaged and happy. You can send your Halloween cards, messages, and photos to The Residents, The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

26 September

Meet Bruce, The Gentle Book Man, “The Old Book Surfer”Up The Road

by Jon Katz

Maria and I looked around our living room and shook our heads together.

The room was overwhelmed with books, stacks of them covered every table. There was no place to put a glace of water or a cellphone down, and we hadn’t seen the tabletops in years

I told Maria I felt like we were like animal hoarders; the books were overwhelming us.

We decided to do something. But we weren’t sure what.

Then we remembered the used book shop up the road, just past the Amish farm. It’s strange to say it, but we’d never been there and he never seemed to be there. It was once a furniture store and was sold to someone who put a “Used Books” sign out front and was never seen again.

He was only open on weekends, and we just assumed he was running an online book sales business, which he is.

We saw a car there once in a while on weekends, but we just never seemed to have the opportunity to go inside.

This was unusual in our small town; we are all in the habit of welcoming neighbors and letting them know we were around to help. We had more than 100 hardcover and paperback books stacked in the back of the car looking for a home.

We didn’t want to take them to the dump, and the library wasn’t taking books during the pandemic. Maria and I are both voracious readers, we have a big pile of books waiting to be read.

We decided to take a chance on the used book store. When we came in, the first thing I saw was a stand with some dog books – five or six of mine- staring me in the face. Then I shouted out “hello,” and in a few minutes, the owner, Bruce, came down to say hello.

When I told him my name, he smiled. “I know who you are. I’ve read your books, and I have a Jon Katz display upfront, “the one I had just seen. He said he’d welcome our books. “A good writer is sure to have good books,” he said, graciously.

I was astonished by the bookstore. There had to be half a million used hardcover books and paperbacks. Every famous writer in the world was represented there, and there were thousands of CDs for sale.

The store’s owner was named Bruce, and he moved in quietly six years ago.  He calls himself “The Old Book Surfer,” and he isn’t kidding.

I told him we were neighbors, and he smiled. He has an apartment above the book shop and a house somewhere else. I’m quite familiar with people with a dream rolling into our town.

A retiree, Brice turned his life over to books. I liked Bruce right away. He is quiet, shy, and gentle mean, clearly a profound lover of books.

The country is fascinating to me in this way. Fierce individualists and dreamers often make their way here (I can speak from experience), it’s inexpensive to live here, beautiful, and people mind their own business (unlike people on social media.) and are otherwise friendly.

People here still want to have callings, not just jobs.

The Amish are moving here for the same reasons.

But there is a downside. There are few people and little money. Rural America has been hallowed out, Wendell Berry calls it our “deserted country.” All the money is on the coasts.

It is easy to like Bruce. He is soft-spoken and clearly, a dreamer. I’m eager to get his story. Oddballs often have a tough time making a living here, but they seem to get bye, as George Forss did.

Once in a while, I meet someone who is impressed that I was a book writer, or who has read all of my books. I can’t say it doesn’t feel good, and I liked seeing my books in their antique case in the front of the store. On book tours, I always wanted to see my books on a rack at the front of the store, and sometimes I did.

And here was a Jon Katz display at the front of a book store a stone’s throw from the farm, and I never even knew it. My bad.

Life is almost always a struggle because these people have foregone a life of money for a life of the heart. “If I’d want to make money,” George used to tell me,”I would never have become a  photographer.

They never get rich, these rolling stones, but they never quite go broke either.

Bruce didn’t complain, but he acknowledged that he was working hard to “keep it all together.” That’s how it is when people are living a dream and not just working in a job. It is rarely easy. I was shocked by the number of books and CDs Bruce had amassed. I can’t imagine how many he sells in that sprawling place way out in the country. I guess he sells primarily online, as a lot of used booksellers do know.

He says his Internet has been broken for a while; he is hoping the repairman comes this time; he was supposed to come yesterday. I told him he’s free to use my computer if he needs to. Between him and the Amish, we might soon have to get a coffee machine.

Bruce’s story is called the Old Book Surfer; he sells new and used books in every imaginable subject area and recorded music on vinyl and CD. His number is 518 229 0562, and his website and e-mail and website are oldbooksurfer.com.

I suspect there are few books published in the last few decades that Bruce doesn’t have a copy of.

Bruce is one of a kind and is worth a visit and a trip if you love books and music. He is one of us.

His street address is 2823 State Route 22, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. If you come to visit, drive down the road a quarter of a mile and visit the Amish Food And Vegetable stand and take home some pies, donuts, squash, or cookies.

I see our neighborhood gets more interesting all the time, even if I’m the last one to notice it. I didn’t know I had Amish neighbors either until Moise and his wife Barbara walked down the road to introduce themselves.

I am really happy we found such a good place for our books (they are donations, Bruce can’t pay for them right now.)

I am eager to go back to the store, talk to him one Sunday afternoon, and write about him. I love to write about the exciting people I come across in my town, and when I listened to Bruce, I had to think of  George, another eccentric who fled to the country to follow his heart and life.

. I told him that I was about to invite him into my life as he had asked me into his. “Like it or not, you are joining the Bedlam Farm lexicon of fascinating and fulfilled people.”

Bruce blushed when I took his picture and said this was a club he was happy to join. He was also pleased to have his photo taken.

I know a good story when I sniff one and Bruce is one. I’ll get it.

26 September

Good Morning Sunday. What I Saw First Thing. My Life

by Jon Katz

I love what I see first thing in the morning on my farm. It matters, it sets the tone for today. I’m taking Maria out to breakfast, we are dropping about 100 books off at a used book store – a donation – and I’m ging shopping. I’m re-constructing my diet to make sure my diabetes is under control. No bread, and of course, no processed sugar of any kind.

I threw the ball for Zinnia until her tongue was hanging off the ground.

Then I’m coming back home to write a piece I call The Time Of Stupid. See you soon.

25 September

My Little Zinnia Garden Is Hanging On

by Jon Katz

Every time I cut my flowers I think it will be the last time. Our gardens are starting to wither and die. Not my Zinnia garden, my first. My Zinnias are eager to hang on. I am proud of them. This one just burst out this morning, it loves the sun and the sunlight. Might have another bouquet tomorrow afternoon.

25 September

Amish Notebook: A “Grandpops” Day: A Reverie. Windows, Six Mountain Dews.

by Jon Katz

Above, the first windows in the barn painted by Lena and Barbara went up yesterday. About 50 more windows for the barn and the house remain. The two young sisters have volunteered to paint them all. This is hard work.

Sometimes I go up to the Miller Farm in the late afternoon; it is usually quiet there unless some construction is underway. The new house construction is on hold awaiting permits; the vegetable sales are quieting down, the baked goods are cooked fresh in the morning, but not all day.

Moise and his son are never idle, they are often out helping other families hurry to get their houses and barns built before winter. They will, in turn, have the help they need when it comes time to work on their own house.

This week, I have eight or nine medical appointments; Moise hasn’t mentioned the operation or asked me about it. That is their way. They don’t do drama. I love them for that. He drove by the other day and shouted, “Hey, Johnny Boy, take care of that foot.”

For the reserved Moise, that is about as close to wringing his hands as he will ever get.

I told them I would not be available for driving from now until Mid-October at the earliest. I might be able to do the small chores – ice cubes, etc. – but I’m not sure. The loss of my driving is a significant matter for Moise, I am the closest person around to ask for a ride, and I believe he has come to count on me.

Organizing rides is always dicey work for the Amish, they have to ride miles to see if someone can drive them, and if they can’t, they have to drive more miles.

We both had talked about spending more time together in the winter. I suspect that is still quite possible. Moise and I are both workaholics, we don’t carve out much fun on our workdays.

Our friendship will change; we just won’t see one another for a while. He will be busy; I’ll be unavailable or laid up in bed.

There was more going on at the farm than I thought yesterday, as usual.

I ended up having what I call a “Grandpops” day. I found myself doing “grandpop” things. The kids could use them.

The children waved and call me “Grandpops” when I pull onto the farm. I like being called that, and I love doing grandpop things. It lives inside of me, even though I’ve not been able to do it with my grandchild, who calls me “mepaw.” As I suspected, Robin is growing up, and we can’t be too much a part of the other’s lives. That’s just the way it worked out.

It was warm, so I brought my usual two bags of ice, which they use to cool their drinks after a hot day of labor. I also got a Cookies N” Cream box and a smaller carton of BlackBerry, which is Moise’s favorite. The girls love Cookies N’Cream; it’s their favorite ice cream. It was dark where they were working, and they were dirty and had white splatters all over their blue aprons.

I never see them in that way.

The night before, I  brought two pizzas as they had company. They all love pizza.

I dropped the ice cream on the kitchen floor. T there was a short line waiting for thumb wrestling, and I won all three games. The girls don’t mind losing, but they love winning more. They fight hard and want to win. But they laugh, win or lose.

Then, I stopped to look at the barn and see what progress Barbara and Lena were making on the way home.  I walked to the barn, and I heard Lena yelling, “Hey, it’s grandpops. Hey, grandpops.”

“Hey, strong women,” I shouted back.

They were painting the windows and trims by themselves.. It’s a lot of work; they paint on their knees, the big barn is dark, hot, and covered in paint splatter. They work hard and continuously, breaking only for meals. The Amish work incredibly hard.

They were happy to see me and insisted that I look at the two windows fully painted, the dozen they’re working on now, and the 60 or 70 lined up in stacks and rows in the barn. They don’t brag, they are not proud, but they like their work to be appreciated – and noticed.

They seemed tired and sweaty, but the Amish (and their children) never complain about working too hard or the work being too complicated. The day had gotten warm and humid, and I asked them if they liked Mountain Dew, the Amish national drink, 360 calories and all. They both nodded their heads and said, “sure, we love Mountain Dew.

One of the early lessons of being around the Amish is never asking if they need anything or want you to get it. They say no, we’re fine. So I know the drill now.

I understand that I am a friend, but I am also a danger as an outsider who uses technology, etc., and am also a threat to their way of life. I never lose sight of the need to keep the boundary. There is always a wall up, they appreciate me, but they don’t want me getting too close. That is how they protect their children from the excesses and distractions of English life.  I respect that.

They rarely ask me for books anymore, and I rarely hang around to talk. They don’t want our books lying all over the place. I bring my stuff or pick up stuff and get home. That is the boundary, and it feels good., if sometimes sad.

But we are close, and I do always feel welcome there. As the wags say, it is what it is. And I accept what it is. This is as close as it will ever get. In a sense, I am built this way, a refugee in body and soul, I’m always more at ease just outside than in it.

I waved goodbye,  walked to the car and drove straight town to Stewart’s Convenience store. I pulled six bottles of Mountain Dew out of the refrigerator, packed them into a paper bag filled with ice cubes, and drove right back to the Miller farm and the barn where Lena and Barbara were still painting.

They saw me walking towards them with a paper bag, and I saw them both start smiling; they dropped the brushes and ran towards my car. I handed them the bag, which they opened, and they both broke out into broad smiles and shouted: “thank you!”

Lena asked if she owed me any money, and I said no, I’ll take some Bracelets to Bishop Maginn High School this fall.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to turn over those six chilled bottles of Mountain Dew to these hard-working young kids. So this is what grandpops do, I wondered? It does feel good, warm, and somehow uplifting.

I said my goodbyes, congratulated them on the beautiful windows, and said I hoped the remaining work wasn’t too grinding. It will not grind these two down, for sure.

I felt a strong affection for them and as much admiration. I like this “grandpop” stuff; it makes me feel grounded and vital.

I’ll check in on them tomorrow morning. Perhaps I’ll get the Mountain Dew.

Today was a reverie for me. Peaceful, meaningful, as Grandpops days  should be.

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