Dunga Brook Diary: You Are Here

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January 1, 2018 · Posted in Commentary 

Where I Thought I Was

By Vicki Whicker

May 2011, Midnight, Central New York.

Finally, at Jim’s door. The Los Angeles to Albany flight topped by the three-hour drive (that should have taken two) has done me in. I’m exhausted. Shivering. And, it’s fucking dark. A billion stars in the sky but no moon DARK.

Jim’s beast is snorting and bellowing behind the door that I just knocked my knuckles raw on. The doorknob rattles and turns, crazily. I wish the headlights to my rental car were still on. I wish I’d arrived in broad daylight.

“JAX backup! JAX! Back! JAX! Goddammit!”

The door opens a crack, revealing more dark. Jim beckons me with a flashlight.

“Come in. Jax is cool.”

I squeeze through and try to get behind Jim to avoid Jax.

Jax howls and scrapes his nails on the wood floor, his giant mouth agape, tongue lolling, the whites of his eyes and fangs shock, flecks of mouth-foam land on my jeggings, my cowboy boots, the sleeves of my expensive LA-style black down jacket.

“He’s a sweetheart,” Jim says.

The flashlight beam sabers the room to reveal an ancient table, a giant cast-iron stove (Ma Barker probably cooked vittles here), a porcelain sink (large enough to hold a yearling), and dust that dances in the beam of light like all of the ghosts of all of our pasts.

“Sorry, I’m late! I lost cell service, I couldn’t text…” I begin but am distracted by flecks. Must. Get.Them. Off.

Jim’s feet are shod in some kind of South American style fur slippers. His rumpled jeans look well lived in. His black hooded sweatshirt and horn-rim glasses are streaked with dirt. His eyes are sleepy. His curly hair frames his head in a Grecian god way. Smooth dark skin. Full lips. That nose, a work of art.

“I expected you at nine…the airport’s two hours from here. You’re upstairs. I sleep downstairs.”

He and Jax stalk through a high ceiling’d hallway, I follow closely, so as not be swallowed by dark.The stairs are wide. The front door is framed by scrolled woodwork with some of the original lead-pane windows still intact. Some aren’t. The place must have been elegant.

“Watch your step, no railing.”

I watch Jim’s breath when he speaks. It’s that cold. He’d warned me…No heat. No running water.

The stairs are steep, I hug the wall with my right shoulder as I struggle with my luggage, I hear plaster chip with each step and shoulder bump.

Thirteen stairs. Then left. Then three steps and a left to the bedroom.

I know (from constant travel to dubious destinations during my career as a footwear designer) that the probability of my surviving a structure fire depends on my ability to orient.

Ancient. Cavernous. Wood, plaster, dust. Mice…wires. A tinder-box. Fires happen.

On my knees in the dark (smoke rises) it would be a right, three steps, another right, hug the left wall, thirteen stairs, and a quick shot out that once elegant front door into the arctic air…gulping it in…as Tara burns, Gone-With-The-Wind style, behind me.

Jim pushes a button on the bedroom wall and a dirty light bulb hanging from a frayed wire (from what must have been, decades ago, a glorious spot for a chandelier) illuminates my digs.

“There’s electricity in your room, the bathroom downstairs, and my bedroom. Keep the flashlight in case you need to get down,” he says.

Visions of mice and wires dance in my head as I scan the peeling plaster walls, wobbly plank floor, vintage bureau with murky mirror, closet door shedding strips of paint like a snake, fireplace mantle with no fireplace, three giant multi-paned windows sans curtains (sans a pane or two…thankfully it’s not a windy night), and flimsy metal bed…a single…circa 1892.

“I pulled the mattress from storage…the attic. Looks like something got to it, probably a raccoon, I flipped it to the better side,” says Jim.

I thank myself for my Target purchases— Sheets, pillow, bottled water.

Jim’s level of roughing it is way beyond me. We Whickers are a hardy bunch. We come from a long line of campers. However, we enjoy airtight shelters. Intact bedding. Running water, even. You know, the works.

Jax leans on the bed and the mattress drops between the rails, boards clatter to the floor.

“Jax! Fuck! Pick up that end of the mattress, I’ll get the slats…”

I lift my end and he puts the boards back into place. I lower the mattress, slowly.

Jax leans, the bed implodes. This is a fun game.

I study the issue…the slats have practically zero tolerance in relation to frame. Jim is no engineer. This is going to be a long night.


Where I Hoped I Was


I’d imagined Cool Farmhouse, Air BnB, Funky Yet Hip, Rustic Yet Classic, but this is more like Amityville Horror slash Scooby Doo Haunted.

“I’ll be downstairs. You need anything?” Jim’s breath curls like a devil’s tail in the frigid room.

“A blanket?”

He disappears with Jax and reappears with a dubious piece of material.

“Warm as fuck. From Peru. I bought it and a horse last spring and trekked across the country with both of them.”

Jax knocks the bed down again, for good luck.

And then, I’m alone.

My LA friends believe that Jim and I are knocking boots right about now. Just because I bought the 1820’s farmhouse next to his for $10,000, sight unseen, after he’d posted a photo of it on Facebook asking, “Who wants to be my neighbor?”

Seriously, can’t a girl buy a place in the country next to a man without everyone assuming that it is going to work out like a movie plot? Just because I’m single (okay, for years) doesn’t mean that I’m due for a fairytale ending. How many times did I explain that IT wasn’t going to happen? But LA, that great spinner of lies and love stories, wouldn’t shoot it any other way.

My friends were like, “Yeaaaah…”

Ok. Jim is hot. Dank and dirty. My type. But, we’d had our chance back in LA, way before he posted the photo of the house. How about that night we sat on a bench in the dark (after our poetry reading in the Palisades) dreaming up a business that we could launch together (something about retro looking electric-car stations)? And? Nothing happened. Nada. Still, one never knows.

But, I know. Hot as he is, he’s not my man. And, that’s OK. In fact, it’s great. What I need is a friend here, not a lover. And, Jim is IT. My country concierge, my back-woods guide. My best not to hit it where you live it. Or some such thing.

But what about my visions? Of beat up old boots underneath my bed? I haven’t even seen my home, much less the bedroom, but, seriously, I “see” oiled leather boots underneath that bed. Loggers, to be exact. I even “see” boot tracks in the snow leading to my door. It’s months and months before winter…who owns the boots?

Through the missing panes in the windows of Jim’s house, I hear the soft hoot of an owl (who who who?) and scores of frogs chirring in the distance. There must be water, very close. My spine tingles as the howls of coyotes on the hunt spiral up to the heavens.

I can’t wait for sunrise, I’ll finally see Central New York in the daylight and I’ll finally see the 1820’s farmhouse that I bought last month from Jim’s post on Facebook.

What could go wrong?

(To be continued)


Where I Actually Was


Vicki Whicker is an iphoneographer living near Cooperstown, New York. In 2011, after 25 years in LA, she quit her fashion job and decamped for the wilds of central New York. Without a job, not much forethought, and a vague plan to remodel an 1820’s farmhouse, she had no idea what was ahead. https://www.instagram. com/vicki_whicker/




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