Saturday, December 5, 2009
Holidays In Woodstock
The most famous small town in the world would, you would think, roll up and hibernate once the summer is over. After all, Bearsville, Allaire, the biggest music studios have closed their doors. The days of hearing Jimi Hendrix jamming amid the stale peanuts and beer at the Cafe Espresso are long gone. The Joyous Lake is a tee shirt shop. So if the tourist season is over and the music is no longer the central draw of the town, what's left?
The Woodstock I grew up in is very different from the Woodstock I live in now. My childhood Woodstock was scruffy, worn around the edges and, to be honest, smelled a bit. It was a stoned town; there was a general fuzzy sweetness about the kids on the street and, for the most part, an affectionate tolerance from the town's "straight" residents. They were used to artists - remember that Woodstock was home to the Art Students League and both the Byrdcliffe and Maverick arts colonies long before Michael Lang's 1969 concert that used its name.
The shop that perhaps best personified what Woodstock was, was its leather shop: Happiglop. I think I'm spelling it right. It was a made up word which was the result of the owners' mis-hearing the name of an animal at the Natural History Museum. They were high at the time. That pretty much says it all.
Today's Woodstock is a bit slicker, a lot more tourist-y and a lot older. Most of the tourists who arrive looking for the old Woodstock find a couple of tie dye shops and go away content. But for those of us who live here look forward to the holidays; it's when the new Woodstock proves it's got something to offer.
Last night was the town open house. Most every shop in town opened its doors and served wine, cookies and snacks. Kids from the local school sang Christmas carols in front of the shops. The pizza shop had a cauldron with mulled cider heating over an open flame and the strip mall down the road had a bonfire, cider and s'mores.
KB and I both tend to be hermits; we go out and watch what's going on but seldom get too involved. You'll most often find us sitting on a bench on the main street with our coffee just watching the world go by. This year we got pulled into our neighbors' orbit and saw the event in an entirely new way.
Kim is an irresistible force. She used to be an actress, she's now a radio personality, a writer and a standup comic. We ran into her with the man she calls her "spousal equivalent", Joe, and we decided to tag along and see how Kim works what she calls her favorite night in town.
Her system is simple: find the shops with the wine and the best snacks, swoop in and enjoy. She's perfectly polite: she makes small talk with the owners, she samples just a little and she says thank you.
"You didn't eat before you came, did you?" Joe asked us.
We confessed we had.
"We really have to talk to you," he said.
Their dinner last night consisted, as best as I could see, of crackers, cheese, salami, cookies and, in one shining moment for Kim, cake. The cake is a story I'll save for a bit later here.
KB had his very first s'more last night and pronounced it "about what he'd expected." I think he regrets losing his status as a man who'd never tasted one.
Then we trooped up the hill and began hitting the shops. There was an art gallery with a fine spread and a lovely Husky dog. One of our friends' very little daughters was holding the dog's leash, wide eyed and delighted, while the dog snoozed happily amidst a crush of people and raucous live Celtic-inspired music. We had wine. I think my three companions also had crackers and cheese.
From there the hunt was on. One shop with wine informed us that the next shop had mulled wine. This being a distinct step up, we had to go. They also had a veggie platter. Joe and Kim got the four major food groups thanks to the local shoe shop.
Kim, at this point, was holding a cup of coffee in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. She's serious about this. She forged on ahead, her long sweater flapping behind her. We followed, helpless to resist.
In the real estate office Kim discussed the merits of satin versus gloss finishes on the floors as Joe scoped out the cheese selection.
The cookies were particularly excellent in the candle shop. We discovered that one of their friends had opened a new gallery so of course we went. Amazing furniture, actually, and an enormous head created by parallel layers of what looked like green styrofoam.
Our goal was the music shop but this year they weren't open. Highly disappointing. But that was made up for by hot toddies at the streamside gift shop and Pecan Sandies. I was very excited about that.
The men's shop had cookies that sent Kim into paroxysms of delight...miniature half moon cookies.
"Oh you got real quality cookies!" she cried.
The expression on the owners' faces was somewhere between confusion and amusement.
"Go ahead and eat one," they suggested as Kim continued to coo over the plate.
There was the world's cutest Golden Retriever puppy in front of one shop. I never checked out the snacks inside because Kim and I were very busy petting his belly. Four legs straight in the air, he presented his little fuzzy soccer ball of a body for our attention.
At this point, I was introduced to a neighbor who wrote us a nasty anonymous note about the lights on the back of KB's studio - he apparently is annoyed by the lights he can see through the trees in the distance. Those are the lights which Kim, who lives directly behind us, loves. We know it's him but he never admitted it, nor has he ever spoken to us. I don't know how I'd have reacted if I hadn't been distracted by the puppy, but as it was I just "Oh, hi." and turned back to the dog. Kim was amazed.
"You didn't realize? she gaped.
"Nope. I was paying attention to the dog."
"Totally understandable," Joe said.
Peace on earth, etc.
We ran into a lot of people: Joe knows everyone, Kim knows everyone else, KB knows his fair share (though when the buxom little stoner girl threw herself into his arms for a long hug and told him she'd been wanting to come to his house and give him a massage, both Kim's eyebrows and mine shot up) and I even ran into a woman I know from junior high. Celebs were around (KB encouraged me to talk to one actor from a show we both like and, emboldened, I ran up, put a hand on his arm and said, "I really like your work. Now I'll leave you alone." He was a bit surprised but very nice.) And while we were in a shop (where aforementioned actor also ended up, trying on hats- I pretended I didn't notice.) I overhead two women whisper as they looked at KB, "Rod Stewart's here!" We said nothing. I hope they were really happy with their celebrity sighting.
Then Kim heard there was cake. You must understand that Kim loves cake. She blogged about it. She did a routine about it. She thinks cake is the answer to all of the world's problems. So free cake is not something she's going to pass by.
We walked down a side street to a basement gallery I'd never noticed. There were a couple of older men inside and yes, there was clearly something going on. There was a veggie platter, some cookies, some wine. Kim went in, followed by Joe. KB stayed outside to have a cigarette and I waited, too. But Joe peered through the window and beckoned us in. So in we went.
"It's his birthday," they informed us. The artist, an older gentleman seated at a workbench, gave us a friendly nod as we wished him a happy birthday. We had just crashed his birthday party.
Kim, always gracious and at ease, was petting his dogs' stomachs and telling him about our adventures so far. I was off in a corner, staring in wonderment at what his gallery featured. He makes intricate wire perpetual motion sculptures. Most of them look like insane ferris wheels with marbles that are lifted up, spin madly around and around, chiming bells as they pass, then landing back at the bottom only to begin the circuit again.
More guests arrived (people who knew him) and we all began to chat. Turns out they love my radio show so they were very excited to meet me and ask me why they can't figure out what my co-worker is saying when she says her name. We understand. We're still not sure if NPR's reporter is Corva Coleman or Corava Coleman or maybe Cora Vacoleman.
So Kim got her cake and Joe delightedly informed us that that's a pretty good picture of their relationship: he eggs her on to do things he would never do and she'd probably never think of. She does them with great gusto once the idea is planted. This, in fact, was not the first birthday party she'd crashed just to get a slice of cake. He dares her. Kim can't resist a dare.
It was a very silly evening.
And this is just the beginning. On Christmas Eve, the center of town is blocked off and Santa arrives - and being Woodstock, he never arrives in a sleigh. One year he was shot out of a cannon. It's a big secret and no one knows what will happen this year.
My guess is that while everyone else is watching for Santa, Kim will be hunting for cake.