February 21, 2008, Cornwall On Hudson, New York

Sorry for the long communication blackout. The first full week back home was extremely fulfilling and energizing. The few projects I worked on that week were enjoyable and getting to see friends and family makes it all seem worth it.

Until I got back here of course. The first few days back were lonely and confusing. I missed Lisa and the boys so much I almost packed it in a couple of times to drive home. Luckily work became more and more interesting as the week went along and Connor and Max are both reading me books (a chapter a night from each of them) so it became less and less lonely as the days progressed. And it is a short week as well (President’s Day), with the possibility of becoming even shorter as a huge storm moves in and threatens a “Code Red” for tomorrow at some point. Regardless, I am ready for only the second weekend away from home with lots of videos to catch up on and blogging and scanning to do.

So, I know you are dying to hear some more witty or at least fresh observations of my new surroundings. There are a few that are general to the area and some unique to West Point I’d like to share.

First of all, I don’t really know anyone here. Of course I know my landlord and a couple of the people I work with, but not beyond a face and a rare name. Whenever I see someone I recognize off post outside of work it is generally very gratifying. For instance, the week I was here in December, I met a guy named Dave. Hell if I knew his last name at that point, and remembered his face more than his name. A friendly guy.

While Kathy from Smitchger Realty was showing me around the different apartments and cottages available that week, I was in downtown Cornwall On Hudson, and making some kind of observation about how I did not know anyone around the area yet, and low and behold Dave goes jogging by and tosses out a smiling “Hey Mark!” Kathy kind of looked at me funny. “I just met him today, really,” I said. I mention this because I was in Dave’s cube today as he helped me with some technical things and remembered this from my first week here.

Besides Dave, though, I know that one lady I keep seeing in different places. OK, so I don’t really *know* her, but it is weird to see the same person a couple of times in different places. I first saw her in the Subway in Cornwall. Might be Cornwall On Hudson – I am still learning where one starts and the other blends. It was a particularly nasty, icy day and I did not feel like a Healthy Choice Café Steamer. I have been living on them and they are really good, but even I need some variety now and then.

As I carefully skated across the parking lot at the Cornwall Plaza (now that I think of it, it probably is in Cornwall, although the Homestead Library is in Munhall, but I digress …), I was glad to see there was only one person in line at the Subway. I made my way in and started examining the menu. Nothing different from what’s at any other Subway, but you never know. To my annoyance, the woman at the counter had one of those lists. You know the one I’m talking about, the list of 4 or 5 sandwiches she is ordering for who knows who. A little of this on that one [checks the list], some of those on that one [checks the list again] and some mayo on that one, not too much. And some more lettuce on that one.

She was a shorter, darker woman, maybe Hispanic but she did not have an accent. She did have a necklace on though, and I only remember because it looked like she had been wearing for years. The skin around her neck was a little discolored, not by the metal turning it green or anything like that, but it looked as if she had a rash or a history of rashes where the necklace was. It did not really take too long for her to finish getting her subs, and I ordered and quickly made my way home. I think this was the night I bought the New Zealand wine.

Anyway, the next day, I was off to do laundry [so that tells me it was the same weekend I stayed here and had the bottle of wine] and while the loads I had in were drying, I went shopping at the Price Chopper [think Giant Eagle – more on these stores later] in the same plaza as the Laundromat I was at. I was walking around the store and who should I run into but neck lady. Not a nice name I admit, but much like “Mitch” it will likely stick in references down the road should she resurface at the Subway or Price chopper. Anyway, when I saw her, she looked up at met, and I was not sure if she recognized me, but I almost said, “Hey! How are you?”

My point is, when you don’t know anyone even a familiar face is welcoming, no matter what distracting physical anomaly might frame it.

One other general observation is the ferocity in which drivers here park. Strange term to use to describe how someone might park, but I can’t think of anything more appropriate. I think I first noticed this at the Woodbury Commons Outlet, maybe the Target. But it seems that when people park here, they are doing it with such anger. I am not sure what might prompt this type of behavior. I have seen people do it with no one else around that might be looking to snipe their spot. Maybe I missed something and they were involved in some road rage before getting to the parking lot and are still hopped up on adrenaline. Maybe they are sexually frustrated and this is a manifestation of their desires (I notice it is mostly men who practice this but have also seen women doing it on occasion).

For whatever reasons, I make very sure not to cut between cars when I am walking through parking lots and take extra caution to give drivers the right of way whenever on foot here.

For my last observation [finally! I feel ‘ya] I’d like to take you behind the gates of West Point. Still being a recent addition to what I am learning is a rather unique culture, I feel sometimes I am doing things that are traditionally outside of the norm, or even acceptable at times. Seemingly innocuous acts like using an umbrella appear to draw unwanted attention to me.

So, maybe I am just being a little paranoid, or feel a little out of place when I am walking on post with an umbrella popped open to keep the mist off of me. We get more of that (mist and drizzle) than anything else. And generally, I am not the first to whip out a bumbershoot and battle minimal precipitation. But when there is a steady stream, no matter how light it might be, I am going to keep the ever-growing bald spot on my head as dry as I can.

In space, no one can hear you scream, and in the Army, no one carries umbrellas. I have never seen a cadet or an officer walking under an umbrella. I am sure there is a protocol for it, or at least some type of evasive maneuver for keeping oneself dry when it is raining (camouflage poncho, etc.), but I have yet to even see that. They all walk around like it is a badge of honor to get wet going from one building to another. The cadets I am sure hate it, but the officers seem all “Hoo rah!” about it. Could just be me …

And I feel just as out of place when I am walking around post wearing sunglasses. While there is usually more often a need to brandish an umbrella, there is an occasional need to don sunglasses during my afternoon walks or even in the morning or evening when going back and forth to my car. One thing I noticed is that hardly anyone wears sunglasses. I am sure this is due to uniform restrictions for the Army folks, but even the civilians do not seem to favor shielding their eyes from the sun when common sense tells them otherwise.

Again, maybe I am just being a little too sensitive to this, but I think I can count on less than two hands the number of people I have seen with sunglasses on. Do they think it makes them look suspicious? I worry a little about this when I pull up to the gate on sunny mornings and have my sunglasses on. But the guards have never said anything or given me any damning looks. Until they do, I’ll keep wearing them.

And maybe, just for the hell of it, the next time it rains, I’ll grab my umbrella, throw on my sunglasses and take a nice long walk. That ought to really freak them out. I might not even wait until it rains. That would definitely get me tossed into the psych ward or Gitmo.

Well, what have I learned this week … the Healthy Choice Café Steamers General Tso’s Spicy Chicken is pretty good, but Max might not like it, and I need to call Zach and thank him for loaning me “Hot Fuzz” once I get a chance to watch it this weekend. I have been saving it for a lonely night when I can curl up with a Subway and some New Zealand wine.

Also, I learned that Sink is just as funny with a 4-inch scar on his neck and a brace on as he ever was, and Rich plays a mean Martin.

Thanks for tuning in.

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